A judge in the District of Washington D.C. recently denied a request by the Humane Society of the United States to halt the killing of sea lions that prey on endangered spring run salmon and steelhead on the Columbia River. On March 15, 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reauthorized the removal of California sea lions that congregate at the Bonneville dam and feed on the listed species as they pass the dam. NMFS's authorization would have allowed the removal of up to 92 sea lions annually through 2016. The Humane Society challenged NMFS's decision, claiming that NMFS erred in determining that the sea lion's predation on the listed salmonids was a significant obstacle to their recovery. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg denied the Humane Society's request to stop the program pending the outcome of the litigation. Judge Boasberg did, however, reduce the total annual amount of sea lions authorized to be killed from 92 to 30. Officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have stated that they did not anticipate the removal of more than 30 sea lions in any one year despite the higher authorization.
As we previously reported, in October 2011, a NOAA task force, made up of representatives from state and federal agencies, tribes, and interest groups, voted to recommend that NMFS permit Oregon and Washington to remove up to 85 California sea lions a year in order to protect listed salmon and steelhead. NMFS had suspended its program in July 2011 in the wake of an agreement (see earlier post) between wildlife advocates and the two states to temporarily suspend lethal sea lion removal as well as legislation introduced in the House of Representatives that would permit the states to remove sea lions without complying with the MMPA (see prior post regarding H.R. 946).
The Humane Society's effort to stop the removal of the California sea lions is their third since NMFS first authorized the program in 2008.