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Sea lions threatening Columbia River fish to be culled beginning this week

Sealion_2 California sea lions that are eating threatened or endangered fish in the Columbia River will be trapped and either relocated or killed beginning this week.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for managing marine mammals, has given authority to wildlife managers from Washington, Oregon and Idaho to remove sea lions that have been documented feeding on chinook and steelhead.

The mammals have figured out that fish are easy prey at Bonneville Dam, where chinook and steelhead gather as they attempt to navigate fish ladders on the way to upriver spawning areas.

According to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, 4,243 salmon and steelhead were eaten by sea lions last year in the area immediately below the dam. This is the highest number consumed to date.

Although California sea lions are protected by federal law, there is concern that they are threatening fish populations before they get the opportunity to spawn.         

“As wildlife managers, we have a responsibility to do what we can to protect vulnerable fish runs,” said Guy Norman, southwest regional manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "California sea lions -- some weighing more than 1,000 pounds -- can literally eat their weight in salmon and steelhead in a couple of months below Bonneville Dam.”         

The Humane Society of the United States is against the culling of sea lions, countering that fishermen and dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers kill more fish than the sea lions do and that cutting back salmon catch allowances could easily make up for the amount of fish eaten by the mammals.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (14)

sea lions are terriable for the fish, when i go fishing i see 10 to 15 seals all chasing fish. its got so out of hand that theres more sea lions then fish and it puts a hudge dent in the salmon and stealhead runs.

I am a wildlife biologist that has been looking at predator prey relationships on the Columbia River for nearly a decade. I am intimately familiar with this issue and it disgusts me that once again people are scape goating a predator because we are far too selfish to look at the real issues. Yes, sea lions eat fish. They have been doing it for thousands of years. Humans on the other hand have only recently damned the rivers. The only solution to this issue is the removal of the damns. They are no longer economically viable and they are just environmental catastrophes. It is time that we take responsibility for our actions as a species and stop passing blame when the fault is clearly our own.

If we annihilated the sea lion population, think how much more fish we would have.

thats rite we must protect our fish. Kalifornia only has about 10,000 sturgeon left and if there's 300,000 of these fur bags guess what it gonna be extinct. DFG mind as well start selling tags to harvest these fluffy fur ball and have an open season just like any other big game.

Culling a few problematic sea lions to save hundreds of fish doesn't seem too bad. I agree that damning the rivers is indeed the problem, but also (as a fisherman) realize there's a huge overpopulation of CA. sea lions. So getting rid of a few, while inhumane, is necessary. But I'd liken it to killing bears or coyoyes or mountain lions that venture too close to neighborhoods. I don't like the idea but it is what it is..

We have not tried every other effort to protect endangered fish. While I am not taking a stance on killing sea lions, this is just one more superficial fix that will not recover salmon to healthy and abundant levels. The science is clear — removing the four lower Snake River dams is our best, and maybe only, shot at protecting and recovering these fish. And you think 4 percent is a big hit? The four lower Snake River dams kill more than 90 percent of baby salmon swimming to the ocean. When the same folks that run the hydropower industry are in charge of recovering these fish and spending more than a billion each year of our money to do so, the fact that they ignore science and the law by clinging tightly to status quo dam operations feels like a big slap in the face to our communities that are hurting because of their ignorance.

if the dam was not there, would the sea lions be there? think not. trap and relocate the people who think the sea lions should not be removed, they are stupid. The salmon is way more important than the sea lion anyway.
got blubber?

There are over 300,000 sealions along the Pacific Coast. A population that is now larger than at any other time. Gone are their natural predators the grizzleys and the Indians that harvested them. It is said that each sealion eats it's weight often during a season. I have also heard the reference that each sea lion eats 100 lbs of fish a day, not counting the females they kill just for sport or their eggs. I have personally witnessed this happening on a couple of occassions. Salmon and sturgeon (both protected species) fall victom to these killers. So lets do a little math. Multiply 300,000 X 365 X100 = 10,950,000,000 lbs of fish consumed each year. Divide that by 20 (ave lbs /fish) = 547,500,000 fish lost to these predators. We have docks in San Francisco Bay that have been abandoned to these animals. We have had Bay swimmers attacked while swimming, fishermen bit while walking from their boats on other docks in the bay area as well. When do we finally quit protecting a protected species? I guess when they threaten to eliminate another protected species or two as in the case with the sealion. Man is the ultimate predator. It is about time we all come to that realization we must control things for our good(food). The sealion is not the cudly little fuzzy harmless animal we have been led to believe it is and it is way past the time to reduce it's numbers considerably.

As a resident of the Pacific NW and Oregon I have to say that allowing commercial harvest with an indiscriminate method such as gillnetting should be outlawed on the Columbia River. Only hatchery salmon are harvested by sport fisherman and the natives that are caught must be released and have an excellent survival rate. Nothing survives the gillnets, they kill unintended sturgeon and steelhead along with native salmon up to the allotted percentage of native fish impacts. Keep in mind I'm talking about non-native gillnets, the American Indians may use whatever means to harvest their treaty share of fish. So, for those that are just reading one article, I'm hoping you can tell this is a far more complicated issue than just salmon and California Sea Lions. The Sea Lions have learned to kill large breading sturgeon, up to 12 feet in length. If the breeding sturgeon are killed, it will be too late before it is realized that the juveniles are not present in numbers to sustain either a harvest or the species. This is a measured step in a complicated process. Think before you condemn a situation of which you know little.

why don't we just stop damming our rivers and killing the sharks? Its our fault that everything is out of balance. We tried to control the sharks by protecting the sea lions, and now we are trying to protect the fish by killing the sea lions. We are absurd.

As a wildlife biologist with an extensive background working in both marine and freshwater habitats there is really only one thing to do for the sake of the salmon and steelhead populations: shoot the sea lions that have lodged themselves in at the rivermouths and are decimating the anadramous fish populations. It's not like there aren't plenty of sea lions now that we've protected them for decades, and if they aren't reduced in numbers around rivermouths then there will be no more viable runs of salmon or steelhead.

Now, for the people who are horrified by the thought of culling sea lions, well, clearly they have no direct experience in the field. There are bans in place against commercial fishing AND severe limits on sport fishing. I realize that sea lions are cute and fuzzy but you just have to get over it and let the wildlife managers do the right thing.

I think the overharvesting is to blame. The sea lions should not be killed for this.

Heaven forbid that fishing limits or a ban be placed against fisherman who overharvest.

wrong approach!!!! bad idea. leave the sea lions alone. we have no business
killing one species in "hopes" of saving another.


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Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.