The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has decided not to appeal a Ninth Circuit Court decision that found fault with the program that lethally removes California sea lions from the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.
NOAA spokesman Brian Gorman said accepting the ruling doesn’t necessarily mean the feds will stop killing sea lions. But the agency does plan to redesign the management program to fix the “flaws” identified by the court.
Chief among the flaws is the double standard that allows commercial and recreational fisheries to kill three times as many ESA-listed fish as the California sea lions are eating. Gorman said NOAA needs to do a better job of explaining why the sea lions need to be lethally removed while fishermen are allowed to continue killing protected wild fish.
“The fisheries agency said it believes the Ninth Circuit decision gives it sufficient flexibility to fix what the court described as ‘flaws.’
The agency said resolving the conflict between a robust population of California sea lions and Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead is a high priority.
NOAA Fisheries added that it would take into consideration its responsibilities under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the recommendations of an independent task force that recently met to advise on the lethal-removal program’s effectiveness over the past three years, with the goal of completing its new determination by early spring.”
NOAA will decide by March or April how to correct the identified flaws, Gorman said, and then wait and see if anyone takes the agency back to court. California sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, so the fisheries service has to find a way to balance those rules with ESA protections for salmon and steelhead – as well as treaties that guarantee a percentage of the fish runs to tribes that historically fished the Columbia.