Press Releases

NOAA Responds to Herrera Beutler: Goal of Fall 2020 for Expanded Sea Lion Removal

NOAA outlines timeline for approval of permits needed for state and tribal agencies to implement Herrera Beutler’s legislation

Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated that it anticipates that applications for sea lion removal, made possible by Herrera Beutler’s successful legislation, will reach a determination by fall 2020.

Responding to Herrera Beutler’s formal request to anticipate and avoid delays in its approval process of applications for expanded sea lion removal in the Columbia River and its tributaries, NOAA Fisheries West Coast Regional Administrator Barry Thom laid out a timeline for the approval process. “Despite the current pandemic, NMFS still anticipates making this decision by the fall of 2020, in advance of problem sea lions returning to the Columbia River,” wrote Thom.

“The survival of our native fish hinges on timely and decisive action, so I’m heartened that NOAA is working quickly to implement the sea lion control efforts I fought so hard to put into law,” Herrera Beutler said. “I look forward to the fall completion date for sea lion approval permits, and will continue working closely with NOAA to make sure it’s doing everything possible to stick to this timeline.”

The full text of the letter from NOAA to Herrera Beutler follows, and a PDF of the letter is available here.

Dear Representative Herrera Beutler:

Thank you for your recent letter regarding the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) section 120 application submitted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Idaho Department of Fish and Game, on behalf of their respective states; the Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation; and the Willamette Committee1 (hereafter – eligible entities). As requested, this letter addresses the status of the MMPA section 120 application and impacts of the current pandemic on the application process.

On June 13, 2019, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) received an application from the eligible entities, pursuant to section 120(f) of the MMPA. The eligible entities are requesting authorization to intentionally take, by lethal methods, California sea lions and Steller sea lions (Eastern stock) that are located in the main stem of the Columbia River between river mile 112 and McNary Dam (river mile 292), or in any tributary to the Columbia River that includes spawning habitat of threatened or endangered salmon or steelhead.

Section 120(c)(1) of the MMPA requires the Commerce Secretary to determine whether an application has produced sufficient evidence of the problem interaction and expected benefits of the taking to warrant establishing a Pinniped-Fishery Interaction Task Force. On June 18, 2019, NMFS determined that the eligible entities’ application contained sufficient evidence to warrant establishing a Task Force.

On August 29, 2019, NMFS published a Federal Register notice requesting comments on the eligible entities’ application, and solicited names and affiliations of experts from the academic and scientific community, tribes, federal and state agencies, and the private sector for consideration as potential Task Force members. The public comment period closed on October 29, 2019. We received 22,225 public comments, which we are required to review and provide to the Task Force members prior to convening the Task Force.

We have formed the 22-member Task Force and scheduled a meeting for May 12 to 14, 2020. Due to the current pandemic, we reformatted the planned in-person Task Force meeting as a virtual-only meeting. The meeting dates remain unchanged despite the change in format.

The Task Force must provide a report to NMFS within 60 days of the Task Force meeting that includes a recommendation to either approve or deny the June 13, 2019, application. NMFS must make a decision to either approve or deny the application within 30 days of receipt of the Task Force meeting report and recommendation. Despite the current pandemic, NMFS still anticipates making this decision by the fall of 2020, in advance of problem sea lions returning to the Columbia River.

I appreciate your interest in this matter. Please let me know if I can help answer any additional questions regarding the application process.