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12

Recommendation: 12

Status: Underway

Direct the appropriate agencies to work with tribes and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine if pinniped (harbor seal and sea lion) predation is a limiting factor for Chinook in Puget Sound and along Washington’s outer coast and evaluate potential management actions.

Description

Action 1

Conduct a pilot project to remove or alter artificial haul-out sites where significant numbers of young Chinook salmon head to the ocean, and report whether the change reduces how many Chinook smolts are eaten by harbor seals and sea lions.

Action 2

Complete ongoing regional research and coordinate an independent science panel to determine how many Chinook salmon are being eaten by harbor seals and sea lions in Puget Sound and along Washington’s outer coast. The research should include an assessment of ways to mitigate the predation.

Action 3

Engage the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  to determine the optimal sustainable populations of harbor seal in Puget Sound.

Action 4

Convene a management panel of state, tribal, and federal agencies to communicate with the independent science panel, review the results of the research and independent scientific review, and assess management actions. Citizen stakeholders also should be engaged in the process.

Action 5

Provide funding for the science, research, coordination, decision making, and if deemed necessary, removal.

Implementation Details

  • In the 2019–21 Biennium, the Governor and Legislature should begin to fund the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to work with tribes and NOAA to pilot the removal or alteration of artificial haul-out sites used by pinnipeds in the Puget Sound in places that may improve Chinook survival. Funding should include implementation and monitoring components to assess the effectiveness of this approach to guide potential future haul-out removals.
  • Starting immediately, the Governor, Legislature, and NOAA should support and fund the coordination and continued development of science to determine the extent of pinniped predation on Chinook salmon in Puget Sound and Washington’s outer coast.
  • The Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Puget Sound Partnership–or a board or partner designated by them–should convene a science workgroup to coordinate ongoing research and provide a comprehensive report on the state of science on pinniped predation. The comprehensive report of science should include the following:

Analyze of Pinniped Predation

An analysis by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to help determine the extent to which pinniped predation is a limiting factor for Chinook survival in Puget Sound and the outer coast. Further, the department should continue to assess the status of the harbor seal and sea lion populations in these areas.

Assess Other Factors

An assessment of factors that may exacerbate or ameliorate predation, including infrastructure haul-outs, hatchery strategies, the increased presence of transient killer whales, and the presence or absence of forage fish or other fish that are staple food for pinnipeds. Strive to complete the assessment in a timeframe that would help inform increases in hatchery production.

Identify Consequences

Continue science to identify potential negative feedbacks associated with pinniped removal (using NOAA’s Atlantis modeling and other efforts as needed). For example, if the consumption of Pacific hake and spiny dogfish by harbor seals declines, will the increased abundance of those fish lead to higher rates of predation by them on Chinook?

Assess Consumption

A quantitative and spatial assessment of the consumption of harbor seals and sea lions by transient killer whales in Puget Sound and the effect of potential removals on transient populations.

  • The Department of Fish and Wildlife and/or the Puget Sound Partnership should convene an independent science panel through the Washington Academy of Sciences or National Academy of Sciences to conduct an initial independent science review of the research program and then review the comprehensive report.
  • At the same time, the Governor should ask NOAA to expediently complete an assessment to determine the optimal sustainable populations of the harbor seal stocks of Puget Sound and then convene the Pacific Scientific Review Group to review the assessment.
  • To ensure emerging science and the independent science panel review are used promptly to improve management, the Department of Fish and Wildlife should expediently convene a panel of state, tribal, and federal managers in 2019. The management panel will provide feedback to the science workgroup on specific information required to assess Puget Sound and outer coast pinniped predation and be updated on the state of the science. After completion of the independent science review, the management panel should examine where and what types of management actions are best suited to the situation and, if needed, provide any information necessary to secure authorization to perform needed management actions. The management panel also will ensure participation and input from stakeholders.
  • The panel should clarify management goals and assess actions that may exacerbate or ameliorate predation, including infrastructure haul-outs, hatchery strategies, increased presence of transient killer whales, and the presence or absence of forage fish or other fish that are staple food for pinnipeds.
  • The Department of Fish and Wildlife should receive state funding for coordination of this process and the Governor should request the Washington federal delegation support funding capacity for NOAA to participate and review any resulting applications for management expediently. Once authorization is received for any management actions, those actions should be funded through state and federal funds.

Recent Progress

  • In 2021, the Legislature awarded $140,000 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to hire the Washington Academy of Sciences to review the existing science and report on the current evidence of pinniped predation on salmon, including an assessment of the scientific and technical aspects of potential management actions.
  • In 2021, the Legislature awarded $470,000 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to expand efforts to survey the diets of seals and sea lions in Puget Sound, conduct population counts, and identify non-lethal management actions to deter them from eating salmon and steelhead.
  • The Department of Fish and Wildlife co-hosted two transboundary workshops to discuss the state of the science and is working to publish a manuscript on predation data from 2017 and 2018. Additionally, with funding from several tribes, the department coordinated with partners in British Columbia to complete a harbor seal 2019 population estimate for the Salish Sea.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.