A bill that would make it easier to kill sea lions that gobble endangered salmon in the Columbia River has cleared a key committee in the U.S. Senate.

The measure allows the federal government to issue permits to Washington, Idaho and Oregon, and several Pacific Northwest tribes, enabling them to more easily target problem sea lions that congregate below the Bonneville Dam where they gorge on Chinook Salmon.

While it cuts some of the red tape it also sets a cap on the number of sea lions that may be taken, based on a formula to ensure a healthy population. Supporters, including the governors of those three states, fishing groups and tribes, say the bill is needed to protect declining runs of salmon and steelhead.

Critics say it won't solve the problem of declining salmon.

The measure is co-sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, and James Risch, an Idaho Republican. It awaits a vote by the full Senate.

It's similar to legislation the House passed last month. That was sponsored by Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington Republican, and Kurt Schrader, an Oregon Democrat.