One of the most imperiled fish runs in Oregon is making a comeback this season, thanks in part to a state program killing the sea lions that had been feasting on them, state officials said Wednesday.
Upper Willamette River winter steelhead, an iconic native species that appeared headed toward the brink of extinction, are showing their best returns after two very poor seasons, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The agency said more than 2,400 winter steelhead have crossed Willamette Falls into the upper river system so far, the best return since 2016. ODFW projects the return to reach 3,200 fish.
It’s a good sign given numbers were as low as 822 in 2017 and 1,829 fish in 2018, but it’s still well below even the 10 year average of 4,844 fish.
ODFW placed credit for the improvement on a program that allows state officials to kill sea lions that had been feasting on the federally-protected fish at Willamette Falls.
The state was granted permission to kill California sea lions last November after a years-long process in which the state argued the pinnipeds were eating almost 25 percent of the steelhead run and putting them in “imminent danger of going extinct.”