The states of Oregon and Washington have agreed to suspend the lethal removal of California sea lions caught eating endangered salmon and steelhead just below the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. The sea lion removal program had been implemented to reduce the number of sea lions that prey on salmon and steelhead listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the sea lions have a significant effect on the ability of the fish stocks to recover. The agreement was reached between wildlife advocates, including the Humane Society of the United States and the Wild Fish Conservancy, NMFS, and the states Oregon and Washington.

Last November, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that NMFS had violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act by failing to adequately explain its finding that sea lions were having a “significant negative impact” on the decline or recovery of salmonid species. After addressing the problems identified by the Ninth Circuit, NMFS authorized the states to resume lethally removing certain sea lions earlier this month.

The Humane Society and the Wild Fish Conservancy filed suit on May 20, 2011 challenging NMFS’s recent authorization. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Humane Society had expected to pursue a temporary restraining order, but the parties agreed to the stipulation so that the case could be heard on the merits, rather than on an emergency basis. (Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2011, by Joel Millman.) The agreement suspends any removal of sea lions through September 2011.