GRANTS PASS, Ore. – The states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho on Monday asked the federal government for permission to kill sea lions eating salmon and steelhead at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.
“Lethal removal is a management method we prefer not to use, but one that may be necessary to restore balance to the Columbia River ecosystem where threatened and endangered stocks of salmon and steelhead are being preyed on by a healthy and growing population of California sea lions,” Guy Norman, a regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a statement.
Fish and wildlife agencies from the three states joined to formally seek permission to use lethal force under terms of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The request does not include Stellar sea lions, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
The request will be considered by a task force of state and federal agencies, tribes, scientists, and conservation and fishing groups in a review process that could take several years.
Meanwhile, a bill is pending in Congress to quickly give permits to kill problem sea lions to the states and Indian tribes.
While waiting for a decision, Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife crews will increase hazing efforts to seven days a week during the peak of the spring chinook return next March. Techniques include throwing firecrackers at the sea lions, playing loud noises, and chasing them with boats.
“If they are ineffective, we need to be able to go to the next step to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead populations,” Charlie Corrarino, conservation and recovery program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a statement.
Problems associated with sea lions in the Columbia have been growing in recent years as their numbers have ballooned under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, from about 50,000 in 1972 to 300,000 now. Some sea lions go right into the fish ladder to eat fish, and their estimated impact on salmon at Bonneville has grown from one third of 1 percent in 2002 to 4 percent in 2005.
The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents tribes with treaty rights to fish for salmon, has been asking the states to seek the authority to kill sea lions since last year.
“We are mainly concerned with trying to see the process expedited in every way possible,” said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the commission, based in Portland. “We are looking at a four- to five-year process before authority is granted. It’s slow.”
The Humane Society of the United States has opposed the idea, saying it will do no good and distracts from the real problem, the hydroelectric dams that kill many times more salmon every year.
In 1995, NOAA Fisheries gave permission to Washington to kill sea lions eating endangered steelhead swimming through Ballard Locks in Seattle, but before they could go through with it, Sea World in Florida took the three worst offenders.
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