SEATTLE – The federal government gave states the green light Thursday to resume the killing of California sea lions that feast on threatened and endangered salmon in the Columbia River.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service said that Washington, Oregon and Idaho agencies can kill up to 92 animals annually for the next four years. But the agency expects only 25 to 30 sea lions will actually be killed.
“We don’t take enjoyment in removing these animals,” said Steve Williams, deputy administrator of Oregon Fish and Wildlife’s fish division.
Since 2008, Oregon and Washington have killed dozens of sea lions that feed on salmon migrating upriver to spawn in the spring as they hit the bottleneck of fish ladders over Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River east of Portland.
But the practice has been opposed by animal rights groups. In 2010, the Humane Society won a court order stopping the killing, but this decision allows it to resume.
“This hardly seems like a situation that requires fatal management,” said Sharon B. Young, with the Humane Society of the U.S.
According to the NOAA, the number of salmon eaten by the sea lions peaked in 2010 at 6,000. Last year that number dropped to 3,600.
The sea lions are killed with an injection. States also are allowed to use guns.