Sea lions become targets on Columbia River
DAVE STREGE Register columnist OUTDOORS
When is a federally protected species not
protected? When it starts decimating the
population of another federally protected species.
Such is the case with more than 100 California sea
lions that reportedly kill about 3,000 spring
Chinook salmon and steelhead annually at
Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.
Increasing numbers of sea lions are finding easy
meals as the protected fish stack up in front of
the fish ladder during spawning runs.
Sea lions are also starting to feed on sturgeon,
which are easy prey from above as they hug the
So last week, the fish and wildlife departments of
Oregon, Washington and Idaho asked the federal
government for permission to kill the problem sea
It probably will take a year before approval is
granted under Section 120 of the Marine Mammal
Protection Act, which allows the killing of
identifiable marine mammals eating fish protected
by the Endangered Species Act.
Meanwhile, the sea lion problem for local
fishermen continues to worsen.
Freelance skipper Norris Tapp at Davey's Locker in
Newport Beach said the past two trips he has taken
to Catalina Island, 12-15 sea lions surrounded the
boat as anglers attempted to catch bonito.
"For whatever reason, they're starting to
congregate in bigger numbers around the boats,"
Tapp said. "It's gotten worse and worse, and it's
On its Web site, the National Marine Fisheries
Service lists legal deterrent methods anglers can
use to shoo away sea lions, such as pyrotechnics
(seal bombs and underwater firecrackers), starter
pistols, sling shots and paintball guns.
Tapp said a box of 72 seal bombs costs $40 and two
boxes an hour would be needed to keep away the sea
"That gets extremely costly," Tapp said. "Those
methods just aren't working."
Since bonito, white seabass, yellowtail and
barracuda are not endangered, state officials
cannot take an approach like the Pacific
Bob Fletcher, president of the Sportfishing
Association of California, said "the only
realistic hope" is the reauthorization of the
Marine Mammal Protection Act, something that has
faced delays since 1999.
The reauthorized bill includes the requirement
that the National Marine Fisheries Service begin
development of an effective, non-lethal deterrent
device and that NMFS reports to Congress annually
on its progress.
But before the MMPA can be put into effect, the
Magnuson-Stevenson Fishery Management Act must
first be reauthorized, Fletcher said.
The Senate already passed the reauthorized
Magnuson-Stevenson Act. It needed House approval
before going to the president for his signature.
It was close to passing in September but was
sidetracked by an issue with flounder on the East
Coast, Fletcher said.
There was some talk about possibly getting it
through during the lame-duck session of Congress
that started Monday, but Fletcher called that a
If it doesn't pass, the whole process would start
over with the new Democratic Congress. Fletcher
said it could be months before a new House version
Until an effective deterrent is produced under the
MMPA - which could be several years - fishermen
and Newport Harbor residents and boat owners will
have no recourse over problem sea lions.
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