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Abstract

In 1994, Congress reauthorized the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). As part of the reauthorization, a coalition of environmental organizations, animal welfare groups, commercial fishing industry representatives, and Alaska Natives, assisted by a professional facilitator, developed a negotiated proposal to govern the incidental take of marine mammals during commercial fishing operations. A subgroup of the negotiating parties also met to address the issue of pinniped predation on declining salmon stocks. This subgroup proposed to Congress a multiphased process to evaluate whether all feasible methods of nonlethal deterrence had been tried, and whether the target marine mammals were responsible for the fish declines. This proposal also called for a task force to consult with the Secretary of Commerce about seals and sea lions considered "nuisance" animals because of their predation of steelhead and salmon, species prized by commercial and recreational fishermen, at the Ballard Locks in Seattle and in the Columbia River. Proponents of the legislation argued that the predation had contributed to declines in several species of fish. Based on the outcome of the consultation and the evaluation by the task force, the proposal created a process whereby the Secretary of Commerce may authorize a state to lethally remove pinnipeds that prey on endangered salmonid stocks, provided the nuisance pinniped(s) is identified as habitually exhibiting dangerous or damaging behavior that could not be deterred by other means. On November 8, 1993, Senators Kerry, Stevens, and Packwood introduced Senate Bill 1636 to reauthorize the MMPA. On November 9, the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee amended the bill to include this nuisance pinniped proposal. Ultimately this proposal, which provides a process whereby states and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) can address interactions between pinnipeds and declining salmonid stocks, was codified at section 120 of the IMPA. On June 30, 1994, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) requested authority under section 120 to lethally remove problem California sea lions from the Ballard Locks in Seattle, Washington. Evidence indicated that the nonlethal methods used -underwater firecrackers, chaser boats, acoustic harassment devices, taste aversion conditioning, experimental barrier nets, trapping and relocating sea lions to the outer coast of Washington and to their breeding grounds off southern California, and use of acoustic deterrence devices - were not entirely successful in eliminating sea lion predation. On January 6, 1995 (less than six months later), NMFS provided WDFW with a three-year conditioned authority to lethally remove fifteen California sea lions in order to protect steelhead salmon from sea lion predation at the Ballard Locks. The hearings to reauthorize the MMPA began in 1999, with a goal to amend the Act by the end of 2000. The 1998 stock assessments indicate that California sea lion populations on the west coast have increased at a rate of more than five percent annually since the mid-1970s; the present population is now estimated at 161,000 to 181,000. These increases foreshadow the difficult issues for this upcoming reauthorization, including pressure to weaken both the lethal and the nonlethal take provisions of the Act.

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