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Sea Lions' Salmon Binge is Growing

by Associated Press
Statesman Journal, April 11, 2004

Fishermen are unhappy about the new upriver feeding habits.

CASCADE LOCKS -- For the third year, biologists are watching sea lions pig out on salmon at the base of Bonneville Dam, and fishermen are not pleased.

The sea lions usually show up from mid-March through May, said Robert Stansell, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers biologist. This year, they showed up Feb. 26, before large numbers of fish arrived, despite popular thinking that they were chasing fish runs up the river.

"They knew that in the past they could find fish here," Stansell said, adding that some of the visitors are repeaters. "They're teaching each other. That's a possibility. I don't have any proof of that, but that's certainly my opinion."

In 2002, the first year of the Bonneville survey, biologists counted 30 sea lions and one harbor seal. Last year, they counted 107 sea lions. So far this year, they have counted 50 animals.

Some anglers say sea lions are becoming so aggressive that some try to get into fishing boats.

Dennis Hull, who owns Salem-based Bite Me Guide Service, said he didn't see sea lions Thursday but that something should be done.

"On some days, you can watch one sea lion bite the belly out of 20 or 30 salmon," he said. "I think they need to thin them out. They've got too many of them."

Once hunted to fewer than 1,500 on the West coast, sea lions are protected. Harassing or harming them is a federal crime. Now they number more than 200,000, but the population may be leveling off, said Bryan Wright, a statistician with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife marine-mammal program.

The agency is studying the recent changes in the sea lions' feeding pattern. Wright said that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made note of large groups of seals and sea lions farther upriver than where Bonneville Dam is today.

Associated Press
Sea Lions' Salmon Binge is Growing
Statesman Journal, April 11, 2004

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