PORTLAND -- Two Washington
congressmen introduced a bill Thursday to allow
killing of the more aggressive sea lions who
prey on Columbia River salmon, which just now
are heading upriver to spawn.
"Unfortunately, the news this year isn't any
better than last; California sea lions are
already setting their sights on this year's
salmon run," said Democratic Rep. Brian Baird.
The sea lions, protected by the
1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, gather at the
base of Bonneville Dam to wait for and feed on
the migrating salmon.
Wildlife officials have tried harassing the sea
lions with large firecrackers and rubber
bullets, but with little effect.
"After trying every trick in the book, this is
the only option left to stop the sea lions,"
said Republican Rep. Doc Hastings.
The districts of both Baird and Hastings border
the Columbia. Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks of
Washington and Republican Rep. Greg Walden of
Oregon are co-sponsors.
Hastings said taxpayers pay millions of dollars
a year to protect salmon while the sea lions
gorge themselves on the fish. The bill would
create a temporary fast-track process for
Oregon, Washington and the four Columbia River
treaty tribes to get permits to kill a limited
number of the sea lions when nonlethal
harassment has failed.
In recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers says, the sea lions have killed
thousands of returning salmon, mostly at
Bonneville Dam. The fish and the sea lions began
entering the river in large numbers in the
1990s, and many sea lions return year after
About a dozen salmon and steelhead runs that
enter the Columbia River are listed as
threatened or endangered under the Endangered
Species Act. The sea lions are protected but are
not listed as threatened or endangered.
Oregon, Washington and Idaho applied last year
for federal permission to kill some troublesome
California sea lions. That approval process
could take five years.
In 1995, NOAA Fisheries gave Washington state
permission kill sea lions eating endangered
steelhead swimming through Ballard Locks in
Seattle, but before the executions, Sea World in
Florida took the three worst offenders.
Wildlife officials say they can identify problem
animals by brands placed on some of them or by
distinctive markings or scars.
The spring chinook and the sea lions have just
begun to enter the river.
By some estimates, the sea lions eat about 3
percent of the fish that arrive at the dam,
where the salmon school up and are most
vulnerable to the sea lions. Eventually, the
salmon climb fish ladders to get around the dam
Animal rights activists say the sea lion issue
takes attention from the larger problems of
pollution, destruction of habitat and spawning
areas, the dams themselves and other factors
that reduce the size of the runs.
Hastings and Baird say the bill has safeguards
to make sure the overall California sea lion
population is not affected.