Fisherman in Oregon, Washington,by Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Columbia River smelt, salmon and sturgeon are being gobbled up by hungry seals and sea lions at alarming rates, according to fishermen in Oregon and Washington.
When smelt were in the Cowlitz River recently, a pack of eight to 10 sea lions would swoop in and "blow the smelt right off the spawning beds," Bruce Crookshanks, a Cowlitz County commercial fisherman, said at a hearing this past week to set salmon-fishing seasons.
Seals and sea lions are protected species under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
"You've got a major predator problem," Crookshanks said at Thursday's hearing. "The states need to raise Cain with the feds. You've got these critters going hog-wild."
Jim Wells, president of Salmon For All, an Astoria-based commercial fishing group, said there is no sense even trying to net salmon downstream of the Astoria-Megler Bridge because of marine mammal predation.
Volunteer commercial fishermen test-net for spring chinook salmon with state observers aboard on Sundays and Wednesdays before the adoption of commercial fishing periods. The test fish are released.
In 12 to 16 test drifts, only one salmon and one steelhead were caught, Wells said.
"Sea lions were throwing three salmon around the boat last night," he said. "You can't fish around Astoria. You get eaten alive. The tribes, sports and commercial fishermen need to form a coalition."
With a huge run of spring chinook salmon just beginning to enter the Columbia, the effects of marine mammal predation this year are expected to be relatively minor. But fishermen said in a year when runs aren't as plentiful, marine mammals might be able to snatch up most of the run.
Marine mammals preying on salmon and steelhead is a long-standing issue, but the reports of their feeding on sturgeon are relatively new.
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