Wilson secures 1.5 million to curb sea lions


February 29, 2024

Army Corps of Engineers

A sea lion devours a salmon. 12% of Columbia River salmon are lost to predation.

A $1.5 million appropriation to combat sea lion predation on the lower Columbia River and its tributaries was approved by the state Senate Friday as it passed a $71.6 billion operating budget bill.

The Senate passed the budget measure Friday as lawmakers continued their march to adjournment of the 2024 legislative session. Both chambers must negotiate and pass budget bills before the scheduled conclusion of the 60-day session on March 7. The supplemental operating budget bill, SB 5950, amends the two-year budget Washington lawmakers adopted in April 2023. The measure now moves to the House for further consideration.

Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, won an amendment on the Senate floor earmarking $1.5 million for predator control efforts by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"Finally, we have some hope of saying goodbye to Herschel and his buddies," Wilson said.

Hungry sea lions are a fast-growing problem on the lower Columbia system. Predation has doubled since 2006 as pinniped populations have exploded. Last spring, sea lions were spotted further up the Cowlitz River than ever before, gobbling salmon and smolt upriver 70 miles to the base of the barrier dam. Experts say the region loses 12 percent of its salmon to predation, and in some areas survival of salmon runs is imperiled.

Since last year's wake-up call on the Cowlitz, Wilson has been working with fisheries officials, sportsmen's organizations and other players to develop an action plan. Wilson said money may be used to purchase special equipment needed to capture sea lions on shallower tributaries like the Cowlitz. Wilson also hopes to begin data-gathering so that the state's federal permit to control sea lions on the Columbia can be extended to the Puget Sound basin.

"This was a recognition from both sides of the aisle that the predation problem on the Columbia requires urgent attention," Wilson said. "Lake Washington spring chinook were wiped out three decades ago because Washington failed to respond quickly and effectively to predation at the Ballard Locks. We can't let it happen again."


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