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Saving Sea Lions

by Ken Robertson
Tri-City Herald, April 1, 2008

Ken Robertson So, what's more important in the overall scheme of saving critters from the ravages of humankind?

Endangered species of salmon? Or thriving populations of sea lions along the West Coast, which now come annually to dine on those dwindling salmon at the Bonneville Dam lock?

Well, if you answered sea lions, you're likely a member of the Humane Society of the United States.

The Humane Society and the federal and state governments of Washington and Oregon have agreed to postpone at least until April 18 the planned killing of certain troublesome sea lions that eat an estimated 4 percent of the Columbia River's annual spring chinook salmon. That might not sound like much, but since the Northwest's electrical ratepayers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for every fish that returns, those sea lions are dining on kings and like kings while West Coast chinook salmon runs dwindle.

Yes, we've been fighting for decades now over the causes -- ocean conditions, the hydroelectric dams, overfishing in the ocean, tribal and sport fishing on the river, regional droughts, damaged spawning grounds and probably another score or so factors not on that list.

But it's clear that a handful of sea lions are no small part of the problem. It's also clear the West Coast population of sea lions has bounced back from nearly being wiped out in the 1930s to about 240,000 now.

In question is the fate of about 85 sea lions this year and for the four years afterward. But at least until April 18, they'll continue to dine on whatever fish they find in or near the dam.

And, if the federal courts are slow to get around to a hearing, that date could be extended. Meanwhile, this year's salmon will be running a greedy gauntlet of hungry sea lions.

Making sense of that will be hard for commercial fishermen, whose boats will be at anchor up and down the West Coast. And for members of the region's tribes, who will be losing out on some of their fishery as well. And for all the rest of us, who pay ever-higher electricity costs because we can't find a way through the issue.

The good news is that the Humane Society hasn't yet taken up the cause of the starling. But after this, probably few will be willing to bet the society's lawyers can't find some reason to save those unlovely birds as well.

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

Ken Robertson, Herald Executive Editor
Saving Sea Lions
Tri-City Herald, April 1, 2008

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