Late last week, federal judge Michael Simon rejected a request to halt the killing of California sea lions that eat protected salmon at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. The Humane Society of the United States wants to stop the lethal injections while its lawsuit against the practice works its way through the courts.
In recent years sea lions have been entering the lower 205 miles of the Columbia River and around Bonneville Dam and feasting on fish. Recent state court filings say that during winter and spring months, as many as 1,000 California Sea Lions can be in the lower Columbia River, each of which consumes fifteen to thirty pounds of fish per day. Conservative estimates show that sea lions during April and May, California Sea Lions eat 12,000 to 20,000 fish throughout the Columbia River and its tributaries, which comprise a significant percentage of the overall salmon runs.
As record runs of salmon are returning to the Columbia River to spawn, the sea lion populations have substantially increased and are a growing threat to endangered salmon runs and other fish species. Despite dramatic population increases in recent decades, sea lions enjoy strong federal protection making it virtually impossible to control them. Scientific task forces have been convened in recent years and have concluded that non-lethal removal have not been effective.
Meanwhile on In October of 2011, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed H.R.3069, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act by a bipartisan vote of 29-13 to protect Northwest salmon and other fish populations. This bill allowed for the issuance of state and tribal permits to lethally remove increasing predatory populations. This legislation was introduced by Congressman Doc Hastings’ (WA-04), who serves as the Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and co-sponsored by Reps. Norm Dicks (WA-06), Jamie Herrera-Beutler (WA-03), Kurt Schrader (OR-05), Mike Simpson (ID-02) and Greg Walden (OR-02).
Unfortunately, as scientists work together and learn to manage the Snake and Columbia rivers and increase salmon and steelhead returns, their work cannot compete with veracious appetite of sea lions.