Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
You donít have to hate sea lions to realize some control must be exercised
California sea lions are remarkable creatures, with males measuring up to 8 feet in length and tipping the scale at 1,000 pounds. Females measure between 5 and 6 feet and weigh about 220 pounds. Even considering the amount of time they spend lounging around like over-stuffed Elvis impersonators, it takes an awful lot of fish to satisfy a sea lion.
Like the African big cats for which theyíre named, sea lions are smart and voracious predators. We probably donít do as much as we could to promote them as tourist attractions. Viewed from a proper distance, they are interesting and photogenic monsters.
It isnít their fault theyíve become Public Enemy No. 3 (behind Caspian terns and double-crested cormorants) for a generation of Columbia River salmon fishermen. They are only doing what nature superbly designed them to do.
Sea lions were given protection in 1990 under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species after their West Coast population plunged from an estimated 104,000 in the late 1970s to fewer than 21,000 in 1992. It would have been tragic if that trend had continued.
There now is little doubt their population has rebounded to a sustainable level, and then some, on the Columbia River. Having become virtually ďuntouchableĒ from a legal standpoint has placed sea lions in the position of chief competitor with human harvest for returning salmon. (Predatory birds primarily impact juvenile salmon on their way down to the ocean, rather than returning adults.)
You donít have to look very far for local fishermen who have lost hooked or netted salmon to sea lions. More than one charter trip has been wrecked by sea lions that seem to delight in poaching the big Chinook being reeled in by out-of-towners trying for the salmon-fishing experience of a lifetime on the Lower Columbia and nearby ocean waters.
The situation has become analogous to African lions becoming so aggressive and over-populated that they claw up all the endangered rhinos.
You donít have to hate sea lions or wish them all gone to realize that some increased control must be exercised over their numbers. There should always be room for them in the ocean and river, but itís foolish to permit them to have an openended, no-limit season on salmon. This is particularly true of wild-run upriver Chinook, so endangered that the loss of a small number of fish can close fishing seasons to avoid impacting the survivors.
The time is long past when humans could sit back and allow nature to take its course in finding a balance between sea lions and salmon. We have a responsibility to manage all species in ways that ensure their survival, while providing enough salmon so the local economy can survive as well.
Itís time for a sensible, conservative program to control sea lion numbers.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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