NOAA Favors Killing Some
by Joseph Frazier, Associated Press
A federal agency recommends killing about 30 sea lions a year at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River to keep them from eating salmon and steelhead.
It was among four proposals listed by NOAA Fisheries Service after meetings of a task force last year and requests in 2006 by Oregon, Washington and Idaho to allow removal of some of the animals, which are protected under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.
At least three upper Columbia River spring salmon runs that pass through the dam are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Sea lions, while protected, are not listed as threatened.
NOAA's recommendation is short of what the three states requested.
An amendment to the 1972 law allows states to get permission to kill identifiable sea lions or seals that have "a significant negative impact" on at-risk salmon and steelhead.
By many estimates, the sea lions devour about 4 percent of upriver spring runs.
NOAA Fisheries has jurisdiction over seals and sea lions and can grant the states' requests under some conditions.
The federal government agreed last January to consider the requests. It plans to take public testimony on the four alternatives through Feb. 19 and make a decision in March.
The sea lions have gathered at the base of the dam in recent years to feed on spring chinook. The fish gather there to climb ladders en route to upriver spawning grounds.
Commercial and sport fishermen and Columbia River tribes with treaty fishing rights for years have urged action against the animals.
The other alternatives were to take no action, to continue using such nonlethal weapons as rubber buckshot and large firecrackers, which has not been effective, or to kill all sea lions within about five miles of the dam, which could affect about 150 animals.
The last alternative is closer to what the states wanted and to what several task force members recommended.
A similar application was made in the 1990s when steelhead were being devoured by sea lions at Ballard Locks in Seattle.
Before an order to kill them went into effect, a public outcry resulted in a reprieve, and Sea World in Florida took three of the five that had been identified as troublemakers.
Washington fish and wildlife officials say it isn't clear what happened to the other two.
The sea lions 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.
The Humane Society of the United States filed a minority report after the task force meetings, saying sea lions were a politically convenient and visible target but the real danger to the runs lies elsewhere, with predatory birds, deteriorating habitat and the dams themselves.
The NOAA report Thursday said the sea lions should be shot or euthanized once captured if no permanent holding facility for them can be found. An animal care committee approved by NOAA would establish standards for capturing or killing the animals.
Research: Which Salmon Hit Hardest by Sea Lions and Seals by Columbia Basin Bulletin, Chinook Observer, 1/3/8
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