At least twenty-nine different species of marine mammals occur in Oregon coast waters, including many whales, dolphins, and porpoises. However, the most commonly seen marine mammals, and those that most often come into conflict with sport and commercial fishing activities, are the pinnipeds (seals and sea lions).
In 1972 the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) transferred management jurisdiction for pinnipeds from state government to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Consequently, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife currently has no management authority for these species. Given the multitude of issues that NMFS is mandated to deal with, and considering the strong protective nature of the MMPA, the various conflicts between pinnipeds and fisheries have not been a high priority for the federal government.
In response to this situation, ODFW has been using limited state program funds along with funding support from NMFS to study pinnipeds in Oregon. Our research has been focused in three areas: (1) assessment of population status and trends; (2) description of food habits and foraging behaviors; and (3) examination of site-specific situations where locally abundant pinnipeds might have a negative impact on depleted fishery resources.
A primary goal of our work is to provide sound information on the levels of predation that abundant pinnipeds in specific locations can apply to a depleted fishery resource. Ultimately this type of information will be needed by fisheries managers to evaluate the added risk to stock recovery that results from such predation. This information, along with an understanding of pinniped population status, will be needed by managers and legislators who may wish to propose and implement changes to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, with the objective of providing a more balanced approach to the conservation of both fishery resources and marine mammal populations.