A NOAA task force, made up of representatives from state and federal agencies, tribes, and interest groups, voted on Monday to recommend that NOAA Fisheries permit Oregon and Washington to remove up to 85 California sea lions a year in order to protect listed salmon and steelhead.  Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (“MMPA”), NOAA is charged with protecting marine mammals such as the California sea lion; but, NOAA is also the lead agency responsible for saving Columbia River salmon and steelhead, which are listed under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  Since 2002, California sea lions have been preying on stocks of salmon and steelhead below the Bonneville Dam, where the species congregate as they prepare to move upstream.

NOAA has twice authorized lethal removal of California sea lions in this area.  In 2010, a lawsuit filed by the Humane Society stopped the program briefly (see NMFS Suspends Lethal Removal of Sea Lions in Oregon and Washington).  When the program resumed, the Humane Society filed a second lawsuit, halting the sea lion removal again.

NOAA expects to make a decision by March 2012 on whether to grant a new permit.