Lure of an Easy Meal brings
by Tim Fought, Associated Press
PORTLAND - They're back - the California sea lions that drive federal officials and fishermen to distraction by parking themselves at the Bonneville Dam to feast on spring chinook salmon as they swim up the Columbia River to spawn.
Government employees dragged out the usual arsenal of large firecrackers, obnoxious noises and rubber bullets to fend off Steller's sea lions, who prefer sturgeon, and reported some success.
But the same tactics have famously flopped in the past against the Californians, who, like the Steller's sea lions, are federally protected and seem to know it. They prey on salmon that school up at the base of the dam waiting to go up the fish ladders toward spawning grounds.
So far there's no sign of C404, the California sea lion who approached celebrity status by figuring out how to get into the dam's fish ladders for easy pickings. But officials are watching for him.
"We don't know for sure where he might be," Diane Fredlund with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Monday.
C404 got his name from a brand applied by a state and federal program. Spotters have learned to identify reliably troublesome sea lions by brand or other characteristics.
Fredlund jokingly suggested showing C404's picture to salmon passing through and asking, "Have you seen this face?"
Dawn-to-dusk hazing by state and federal employees began March 1 to discourage both species of sea lions.
"We're just making it a little uncomfortable for them. That's about all we can do at this point," Fredlund said.
The salmon run usually picks up by mid-April, and the sea lions are there to meet, greet and eat. The predators "are coming up earlier and staying longer," Fredlund said.
For some reason, the Steller's sea lions have been easier to scare off.
"What's very impressive is the fact that the Steller's sea lions are fundamentally gone," Charles Corrarino of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a newsletter report on the hazing. "They skedaddled."
California sea lions are protected under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Steller's are listed under the stricter Endangered Species Act.
Biologists say neither species began entering the Columbia in great numbers until about 1990. Only in the last five years have the Steller's become a threat to sturgeon, Corrarino said.
Oregon, Washington and Idaho applied last year for federal permission to kill some of the more troublesome California sea lions, saying they have exhausted their options. Approval, if it comes, could take years.
Animal-protection groups say agricultural runoff, the dams themselves and damage to spawning grounds are far greater threats than the sea lions to the fragile salmon runs, which have shrunk to a small fraction of their historic highs.
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