Sea lions pushing Willamette Steelhead near extinction

California sea lions feeding below Willamette Falls, hurting fish population

A sea lion eats a fish at Willamette Falls. (ODFW via West Linn Tidings)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – State officials warn that if California sea lions continue feeding below Willamette Falls, they could push winter steelhead trout to the brink of extinction.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife highlighted the threat in a population feasibility study released Monday. Without federal intervention, they said, there’s an 89 percent probability that least one population of the iconic fish species will go extinct in the near future.

The state’s report comes as two Pacific Northwest congressional leaders are trying to give Oregon and Washington broader authority to kill sea lions at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. The bill would also apply to the sea lion logjam at Willamette Falls in Oregon City.

Dr. Shaun Clements, a scientist at Oregon Fish & Wildlife, supports the bill. He wants the state’s fish and wildlife agency to be able to humanely kill off some of the sea lions.

“We’ve got a really healthy population of sea lions coast wide, about 300,000 and a small proportion of those are moving into these fresh water areas where they weren’t historically,” Dr. Clements said.

However, a nonprofit advocacy group, the Native Fish Society, monitors the ecosystem data in the river and said sea lions aren’t the problem. They blame humans and other environmental factors.

Conrad Gowell with the group said, “Killing the sea lions would be an emergency measure and you would have to do it continually so it’s more of a band aid effect than a permanent fix to the problem.”

According to Dr. Clements, they’ve exhausted all options, including trying to move the sea lions, who always come back.

Dr. Clements said the department will continue to work on fixing some of the human-caused problems, but if some of the sea lions aren’t killed off soon, the steelhead could be gone for good.

KOIN 6 News Reporter Andrew Dymburt contributed to this report