Fish Agency Considers Petition
by Joseph Frazier, Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The federal government will consider a petition by three states to remove or kill troublesome sea lions in order to protect endangered salmon and steelhead headed upriver through Bonneville Dam to Columbia and Snake river spawning grounds.
The action applies to fish protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, which includes about a dozen Columbia and Snake river fish populations, Brian Gorman, spokesman for the NOAA Fisheries Service, said Tuesday.
A decision to remove or kill the sea lions, he said, likely will be a year or more away.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act, established in 1972, protects California sea lions and many other species, although the sea lions are far from endangered.
Accepting the application starts a process that will set up a task force and request public comment on the petition from Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
Fishermen contend the sea lions, who gather at the base of the dam as salmon head upriver, eat too many of the fish and reduce the available catch.
Authorities have tried huge firecrackers, rubber bullets, underwater broadcasts of loud sounds and other remedies, to little avail.
Opponents of killing the animals say the sea lions are only a small part of larger problems that include the dams themselves, agricultural runoff, industrial pollution and destruction of spawning areas and other habitat.
"We will be submitting comments on it, and we very much hope to be a part of the task force making the decision," said Marine Issues Field Director Sharon Young of the Humane Society of the United States from Sagamore Beach, Mass.
"The information we have is that they eat only 3 to 4 percent of the run," she said.
She said an estimated 40 percent of the Canadian catch is made up of species listed as endangered in the United States.
"We need to address a multitude of problems," she said.
Gorman said about a dozen salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia and Snake rivers are considered endangered.
He said a decision to allow killing or other removal "is a slow and deliberate process by design."
He said a similar application was made some years ago when steelhead were being devoured by a trio of sea lions at Ballard
Locks in Seattle.
Before an order to kill them went into effect a public outcry resulted in a reprieve. In 1966, Sea World in Florida took them in.
The three had killed up to 65 percent of the winter steelhead at the locks linking Puget Sound with Union and Washington lakes, and the run has not fully recovered.
Fish biologists brand sea lions to identify those who return to the dams year after year during the salmon runs.
One, branded C404, has achieved celebrity status of sorts by working his way into the ladders designed to help the fish over the dam, and even weaseled his way into the windows where counters keep track of the upriver migration to predict future runs.
He has earned the grudging respect, if not the love, of some fish biologists.
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