Up For Debate: What’s the Real Cost of Endangered Species Predation?

On February 10, 2016, lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans are scheduled to discuss several wildlife laws, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).  The Oversight Hearing is entitled The Costly Impacts of Predation and Conflicting Federal Statutes on Native and Endangered Species.  Anticipated topics for discussion include addressing the fact that conflicts between federal statutes often prevent agencies and federal officials from effectively reducing predation of native and endangered fish by other protected species.  The hearing memo (pdf) notes that federal, tribal, state and local governments, and other entities have spent billions of dollars promoting the recovery of fish species listed under the ESA, some of which are being preyed upon by other protected species.

One of the predation scenarios that the panel is expected to address is the annual massing of sea lions (Otariinae) in the lower Columbia River, where the sea lions feed on smelt and salmon.  Sea lions are protected by the MMPA, which requires federal officials to identify an individual animal prior to killing it.  Columbia River Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) are listed as threatened under the ESA, meaning that the uncontrolled consumption of salmon by sea lions poses a conservation problem.  Likewise, double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), which are protected by the MBTA, regularly feed on threatened and endangered salmon.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has attempted to address the problem of predation by cormorants by authorizing the killing of thousands of birds; however, the same action cannot be taken with respect to sea lions.

The hearing memo also notes that the National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that non-native species are the cause of endangerment for approximately forty-eight percent of the species listed under the ESA, costing the domestic economy more than $120 billion in 2005 alone.  According to the hearing memo, the panel may also address long running concerns about whether striped bass, a recreational fishing stock regulated by the state of California, consume too many juvenile Chinook salmon, an endangered species, in California's Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta.  Witnesses for the hearing will include the Honorable Leotis McCormack, Secretary for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; Will Stelle, National Marine Fisheries Service Regional Administrator for the West Coast Region; Dr. Gary D. Grossman, Professor of Animal Ecology at the University of Georgia; Doug Demko, President of FishBio, a California fisheries consulting firm; and Dan Ashe, the Director of the Service.

The hearing will take place on February 10, 2016 at 10:00 am in 1334 Longworth House of Representatives Office Building.

Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.

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