FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Brian Gorman, Mike Fergus
NOAA Fisheries Responds to Congressional Request for Report
Rapidly growing populations of California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals on the West Coast can harm salmon stocks and other fish that are at low levels, including those listed or proposed to be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service said in a report sent to Congress today. The report, also citing increasing incidents of sea lions that cannot be deterred from docks and marinas, said sea lions and harbor seals may be a threat to public safety at such locations.
Harbor seals, California sea lions and other marine mammals, such as whales and porpoises, have been protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act since 1972. The results, according to the report, have been mixed. Some animals, like North Atlantic right whales, Steller sea lions and Hawaiian monk seals, remain critically endangered. Others, like California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals, have increased so rapidly that there are now frequent and serious conflicts between them and humans coast wide.
The fisheries service report, compiled with the assistance and concurrence of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and the fish and wildlife agencies of California, Washington and Oregon, was requested by Congress in 1994 to address the effects of rising West Coast pinniped populations on declining salmon stocks and interactions with humans. Congress would have to change the Marine Mammal Protection Act to put the report's recommendations into effect.
The 18-page report to Congress is based
on a larger scientific report, also produced by the fisheries
service, that describes robust and increasing seal and sealion
populations on the West Coast. According to the latest figures
Although not the primary cause for the
salmon's decline, both seals and sea lions are known to eat fish
from depressed stocks of salmon and steelhead, especially at
areas of restricted passage like river mouths and dams, and this
can prevent or delay recovery of declining fish populations.
Fisheries service biologists note that there is a wide variety
of other factors, including habitat degradation, dams, fishing
and competition from hatchery salmon, responsible for these population
The report says in certain situations where seals or sea lions are preying on salmonids listed or about to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, state and federal wildlife managers, under strict federal guidelines and as a last resort, should be permitted to lethally remove these marine mammals.
The agency's experience at Seattle's Ballard Locks, where for years sea lions preyed on an imperiled run of steelhead, shows that much of the predation is caused by a very small number of problem animals. Permanently removing only those animals, as was done with three Seattle sea lions in 1996, can virtually eliminate further predation.
"Human safety must be the prime concern
when seals and sea lions directly encounter people," said
William Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries
Southwest Region administrator. "Our goal is to reduce
interactions using every non-lethal technique available, but
there are situations where a few animals are threatening people
and property and we need more effective tools to deal with that
Other recommendations include developing safe and effective deterrents, so that lethal removal of problem animals is a seldom-used option. There is a "pressing need," according to the report, for research on the development of effective devices and methods that would drive away seals and sea lions from problem areas without harming them.
The report also recommends Congress consider reinstating the authority, removed from the federal marine mammal protection law in 1994, that allows a fisher to lethally remove a seal or sea lion to protect his catch or gear if the animal cannot be otherwise deterred. Such authority, the report says, would be only for certain fishers at specific sites and seasons, and only until effective non-lethal means to deter seals and sea lions can be developed.
The fisheries service is charged with protecting marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and with recovering threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead under the Endangered Species Act.
Copies of the Congressional report, the 84-page scientific document that supports it, and other supporting materials are available on the Northwest Region office's home page at www.nwr.noaa.gov.