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Commentaries and editorials

No Free Lunch for Sea Lions

by Editorial Board
Seattle Times, March 17, 2008

U.S. taxpayers and Northwest utility users provide billions of dollars to restore salmon and steelhead populations. Hungry sea lions are dining on the progress, and nonlethal deterrence has failed.

The next logical step has been approved by federal regulators after 19 months of review and reappraisal. The decision to shoot, capture or remove individually identifiable sea lions responds to decades of efforts to promote healthy salmon stocks.Letters from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration to authorities in Washington, Oregon and Idaho on Monday prescribe and proscribe how salmon-devouring sea lions can be dealt with by lethal means.

The trouble has come from a relatively small number of sea lions that wait at or below Bonneville Dam for congregating salmon, that pause before going up the Columbia River to spawn. As many as 85 sea lions could be shot or hauled away. NOAA even notes arrangements for public display of sea lions that are caught and relocated.

A statement by Columbia River tribes captured the sensitivity of the moment, and the opportunity to restore a measure of balance and reality to salmon-restoration efforts:

"NOAA has made the right decision at the right time," said Fidelia Andy, chairwoman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and Yakama Nation tribal member. "The salmon need relief and the public deserves remedy to this serious problem. We recognize the strong sentiment and emotions on all sides of this matter. We ask for the public's patience and support, while management activities proceed."

A lengthy process, with a detailed conclusion, is in itself an acknowledgment of a delicate, last-resort attempt. Expectations are the number of sea lions killed will be smaller than authorized. In this setting, under these conditions, salmon are the priority.

Related Pages:
Survival of Snake River Salmon & Steelhead data compiled by, July 2004

Editorial Board
No Free Lunch for Sea Lions
Seattle Times, March 17, 2008

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