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What Oregon’s Election Results Mean for Salmon and Steelhead Anglers

Oregon’s 2016 election has both good news and bad news for recreational salmon and steelhead anglers.


Here’s the Bad News:

Governor Kate Brown (D), took office with the resignation of former Governor John Kitzhaber, an avid fly fisherman and opponent to commercial gill-netting practices. Kitzhaber’s personal relationship with sport anglers naturally took priority over commercial fisheries, and he worked with neighboring Washington state to end non-tribal commercial gill-netting within the Columbia River, the dividing line between the two states.

After Governor Brown took office, she appointed gillnetting advocate Bruce Buckmaster to the state’s fish and wildlife commission. Concern continues to grow among sportfishing advocacy groups throughout the state to follow through with a transition away from non-selective harvest methods, especially after charging it’s citizens for an additional endorsement to fish the Columbia River and its tributaries.

Now, for the Good News:

Ron Wyden (D) understands the necessity of predator management to prioritize Oregon’s Endangered Species Act listed stocks of salmon and steelhead. Conflicting Marine Mammal Act protections prevent lethal removal of sea lions, however some very specific guidelines allow states to manage a very small group of the most problematic animals. Wyden’s response letter on the issue tells the story:

Thank you for contacting me regarding California sea lions preying on migrating salmon and sturgeon, particularly near the Bonneville Dam. I appreciate hearing from you.

As you know, this is becoming an increasing occurrence in river systems and bays located along the West Coast. According to a multi-year study by the Army Corps of Engineers, sea lions in the Columbia River are appearing earlier each year and in greater numbers. Between 2002 and 2004, the percentage of the returning run of Chinook salmon eaten by sea lions increased from 0.2% to 2.1%. Clearly, the impact rate is more significant in years when the salmon runs are small, such as this past year.

During the spring of 2005, more than 100 sea lions came to Bonneville Dam to feed on salmon. IN addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) documented 14 cases of sea lions preying on migratory sturgeon. However, most of the sea lion controversy is centered around approximately 35 “problem animals” for which FWS’s usual methods of deterring salmon-feeding by sea lions have proven unsuccessful. Although Chinook salmon are protected by the Endangered Species Act, California sea lions are a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The States of Oregon and Washington have initiated a process under MMPA to allow for lethal measures to be used on 2 California sea lions that have learned to climb the Bonneville dam fish ladders to access migrating salmon.

I worry about the long-term impacts that sea lions, such as those at the Bonneville Dam, may have on already fragile salmon and sturgeon runs. Salmon, in particular, are a valuable resource socially, economically, and culturally for the Pacific Northwest and the nation. In Addition, I am concerned because these sea lions are growing more aggressive in their interactions with humans. I will continue to pursue a balanced solution to the situation and should the issue come before me in the Senate, I will keep your views and concerns in mind.

Again, thank you for keeping me apprised of the issues that are important to you.


Ron Wyden
United States Senator


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What Oregon’s Election Results Mean for Salmon and Steelhead Anglers