WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2018 – Americans overwhelmingly support comprehensive protections for marine mammals, according to a new poll commissioned by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Oceana and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Despite that public endorsement, the US House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a bill next week that would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to allow for the killing of almost 1,000 sea lions a year. The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act was introduced in the House by Reps. Jaime Herrera-Beutler (R-WA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and in the Senate by Sen. James Risch (R-ID).
The bill would expand the scope of lethal management already in place at locations such as Bonneville Dam in Oregon, while removing virtually all oversight of this program. AWI vehemently opposes this bill, which misleadingly implies that killing sea lions will save endangered salmon, when the greatest threat facing the salmon is human-caused degradation of their spawning habitat.
“The American public overwhelmingly supports strong protections for the marine mammals that call US waters home,” said AWI’s marine mammal scientist, Dr. Naomi Rose. “Changing the core nature of the law to allow killing of sea lions for the crime of being sea lions—for taking advantage of dams and structures we put in the salmon’s way, making it easier for predators to catch them—is politically expedient but biologically indefensible.”
According to a survey of 1,000 adults, conducted in April by AWI and its allies, 83 percent of people favor protecting marine mammals against a host of threats, including commercial fishing gear, offshore oil and gas drilling, ocean pollution and ship strikes. That figure represents a 7 percent increase from the same poll conducted last year. In addition, 77 percent of respondents said they support the MMPA, up 4 percent from 2017.
Since its founding, AWI has supported work by members of Congress to secure passage of legislation to improve the welfare of animals. In 1972, the nonprofit helped secure passage of the MMPA, a law that provides protections for all marine mammals in US waters—including whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, polar bears, walruses and manatees—so that their populations can be restored and maintained at healthy and productive levels.
AWI has been working to get additional protections enacted for marine mammals in the 115th Congress. We have endorsed the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, a bipartisan bill—introduced in the Senate by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) and in the House by Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA)—that would phase out the use of large mesh driftnets in all US waters by 2020. Driftnets, stretching more than a mile long, are placed in the ocean to catch everything in their path, including swordfish and thresher sharks. However, the nets entangle dozens of other marine species, indiscriminately injuring and killing them. Most of these “bycatch” animals are discarded.
During the appropriations process, AWI requested additional federal funding for the Prescott Grant Program. This vital program provides competitive grants to marine mammal stranding network organizations to rescue and rehabilitate sick, injured or distressed marine mammals and, where appropriate, investigate causes of death.
Why doesn’t AWI do another poll. Ask the American people if they think the population of sea lions (a species that has seen a 10 fold increase since the MMPA was enacted) should be culled in a small segment of the Columbia River over 100 miles upstream to try and prevent endangered salmon and steelhead species from going extinct. Tell your poll readers that these fish are helpless when approaching fish ladders. Tell them that the ratepayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year trying to protect the iconic salmon of the Pacific Northwest. Tell them that every entity involved in NW salmon, from Indians, to sportsmen to dam operators are greatly moderating their activities to protect salmon. Tell them this is a learned behavior by a relatively small number of sea lions as evidenced by the fact that we did not have sea lions in large numbers that far upriver even 20 years ago and tell them to read the study by an eminent NOAA scientist released in March who found a 43% mortality rate of chinook in 2014 between the mouth of the Columbia and Bonneville Dam and indicated it was most likely due to sea lions. Tell them Oregon’s Dept of Fish and Wildlife now believe Willamette River steelhead will go extinct if sea lions are not removed from the area around Willamette Falls. Tell them about the roll of organizations like yours and the roll they played in the extirpation of Lake Washington steelhead due to predatory sea lions wiping out the run at Ballard Locks in the mid 1980s where the fish were once again defenseless and how the same fuzzy headed thinking evidenced above and dilatory actions preventing WDFW from being able to act helped wipe out that species. Tell them the truth and let us know about your next poll.
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