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Salmon recovery plays a vital role

Although some people may not be aware of it, a significant amount of Northwest residents’ power bills has nothing to do with the generation or delivery of electricity.

Every year, Northwest ratepayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars through their electric bills on measures to protect endangered salmon migrating through the Columbia River dams.

This enormous investment is paying dividends — this year, nearly 1 million fall Chinook salmon have migrated to the Columbia River over just the past three months, a record since data has been tracked dating back to 1938, the year Bonneville Dam was built.

Unfortunately, these investments are being undermined. Increasing numbers of California and Steller sea lions that travel up the coast from California and other areas have been camping out in recent years around Bonneville Dam and feasting on adult endangered fish.

In addition, these sea lions are preying on other fish resources, such as tens of thousands of white sturgeon, an important fish resource for state and tribal fisheries.

Despite efforts by federal, state and tribal officials to discourage sea lion preying by non-lethal means, these huge animals are increasing in numbers and appear to be more aggressive each year.

During winter and spring months, as many as 1,000 California and Steller sea lions can be found in the lower Columbia River, each of which consumes 15-30 pounds of fish per day.

According to information provided by state officials in 2012, conservative estimates show that sea lions during April and May have eaten an average of at least 12,000 to 20,000 fish from the Columbia River, as well as its tributaries.

Despite dramatic population increases in recent decades, sea lions enjoy strong federal protection, making it virtually impossible to control their population.

Multiple scientific task forces have convened at least three times over the past seven years and have concluded that non-lethal removal efforts of the sea lions have not been effective.

As record and near-record runs of salmon are returning to the Columbia River to spawn, the sea lion populations have substantially increased, posing a growing threat to efforts to protect endangered salmon runs and other fish species.

With all other methods exhausted, lethal removal of the most aggressive sea lions is often the only option left to deter predation, help protect endangered fish, and make the most of our region’s substantial investment in salmon recovery.

Just this month, the House Committee on Natural Resources, which I chair, approved my bill H.R. 1308, the “Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act.”

Supported by both the Washington and Oregon Departments of Fish and Wildlife and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, my legislation is a bipartisan, common sense approach to provide federal, state and tribal fish managers the flexibility and tools necessary to control the sea lions without unreasonable roadblocks resulting from frivolous lawsuits and lengthy court rulings.

Our region has proved that the continued operation of hydropower dams to produce low-cost, clean and renewable energy and successful salmon runs can both be achieved at the same time. While our efforts have contributed to this year’s record-breaking return of salmon, action must be taken to ensure our fish managers have all necessary and available methods to protect our investments in recovering these endangered fish.

Rep. Doc Hastings represents Washington’s 4th Congressional District, including part of Okanogan County.

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