Save Columbia River Sea Lions


California sea lion

Image via Wikipedia

By Edward Johnson

Killing Sea Lions below the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia river is not the answer.

During the past month I have tried several times to write a post on the proposed killing of the California sea lions who  have the audacity to consume fish from their territorial Columbia River. During my searches I continue to find overwhelming objective data that supports allowing these marine mammals to do what they do the best, fish. Thankfully, the Humane Society United States (HSUS) continues to be the backbone of opposition to this unnecessary slaughter by employing a more than qualified person to search out the truth and present the facts relative to this issue, Sharon Young Marine Issues Field Director HS. The arguments she made in Support of the Sea Lions before the US House subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs are compelling. The subcommittee was chaired by State of Washington Congressmen Doc Hastings. Not only is he chairmen of the committee but he along with fellow congressional representative from Washington State, Norm Dicks, co-sponsored H.R. 946 (which would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972) to allow the Secretary of Commerce to grant permits for the “lethal taking of California Sea Lions.”

You may ask what has changed since 1972 that would allow tossing out a part of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in exchange for brutal force. Federal protection as often is the case; can enable  a decimated species to regenerate it’s  populations and eventually flourish. Thanks to federal protection the number of sea lions has increased. In the 1920’s seal lion populations off the west coast were decimated to a population in the thousands,  due to fur harvesting.  Today the sea lions numbers have increased to almost  three-hundred-thousand thanks to conservation efforts and federal protection.

Unlike the California seal lion whose populations have recovered, the Alaskan sea lions numbers have continued to decrease. Several factors seem contributing to their demise due to the over fishing of two species, cod and mackerel. In that situation, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has proposed very restricted fisheries to helping the Alaskan sea-lion populations to recover. Some suggest that killer whales are the culprits as their diet now includes sea lions because the whale populations are so depleted.  I mention over fishing and the plight of the Alaskan sea-lion because there are similarities. Could over fishing on the West Coast be a factor driving the sea lions up the Columbia River?In essence we have dichotomies within nearly adjoining waters with the same agency NOAA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in the cross hairs of controversy.

I mentioned Sharon Young Marine Issues Field Director HS earlier.  Included is her objective data and profound observations, to help convince any doubters of her arguments, and objections to the slaughter of the Columbia sea lions. If only the members of HSUS which number 23 million would come on board and bombard their Congressional representatives, this House resolution would quickly disappear. In the meantime I have reviewed her testimony and will high light significant points that she made before the subcommittee. She was a member of the pinniped (seals) task force which that  made recommendations on salmon predation prevention. From the outset of her five-page rendering she made it clear that the problem of declining salmon runs had little to do with the sea lions and more to do with loss of habitat and poor management practices. Solidly grounded arguments made by Young demonstrated the impact of 1) hatchery fish,  2) the intentional introduction of non-native species, Walleye, and 3) fisheries both sport and commercial as mitigating and contributing factors to the slow recovery of salmon runs. She completely discounts the contention that the sea lions are an active threat to Columbia River salmon populations. Passage of HR 946 will not only allow “vigilante,” style killing of the sea lions, but will also undermine the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

When looking at the mainstream media coverage of this hearing, agency folks made the mistake of trying to establish the presence of sea lions on the Columbia River as a recent occurrence rather than citing the truth, that the California sea lions were first observed by Lewis and Clark on their famed visit to the Pacific Northwest 200 years ago. At one time the sea lions terminal point for migration was Cello Falls, some 180 miles upstream. Indian fisheries at these sacred falls witnessed seal lions the Columbia river,  and shared their catch with these fish hunters.  Today the journey of the sea lions ends at Bonneville dam, as it obstructs their natural migration.

Young used information submitted by NOAA and the Army Corp of engineers to piece together data that validated her contention that sea lion consumption of salmon had not changed, and may have even declined on a percentage bases. The number of returning salmon has increased leaving the quota by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFs), “Overall abundance of Chinook and steelhead potentially impacted by pinniped predation [has] increased or stayed the same since the last status review was conducted prior to 2005.” Using their figures she denotes the percentage decline of predation over the last three years stating with 4.2 percent in 2007 when the states’ first applied to kill sea lions; in 2008, the predation rate was 2.9 percent of the run; in 2009, it was 2.4 percent of the run; and in 2010 it was only 2.2 percent of the run. Preliminary wrap-up report for 2011 summarizing seal lion predation on the Columbia River, states that an estimated 1.4 percent of the run was consumed. The goal was to have been 1% and this year WITHOUT KILLING A SINGLE SEA LION THE GOAL WAS NEARLY ACHIEVED! On total numbers of fish consumed the government argues that the raw numbers have increased seven fold since 2000, when actually the percentage of the run consumed is the lowest since 2002.  As you can see we are witnessing another shell game at the expense of a potential death sentence for long term river residents.
sea lion

Please visit the following link and sign this petition:

“Save Our Sea Lions” 

http://www.change.org/petitions/save-our-sea-lions

6 thoughts on “Save Columbia River Sea Lions

  1. Today Oct. 19, 2012 Sharon Young hopefully is standing before a court arguing a case against the Secretary of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). HSUS seeks to overturn a permit that was issued to allow the lethal removal of California sea lions at the Bonneville Dam. We can only hope she will further and more substantial prove her case. Ed J

  2. Hello, I was a sea lion predation observer at Bonneville dam in 2008. I watched and documented how many salmon individual sea lions were killing and eating below the dam. 2008 was the first year any sea lions were removed from the dam and predation rates dropped that year from 2007 as you pointed out. Every year since 2008 more sea lions have been removed from below bonneville dam and every year predation rates by the sea lions has dropped. this makes sense because the same sea lions come back year after year to eat salmon below Bonneville dam. The predation rates are dropping because predatory sea lions have been removed. Although I do not agree with the removals they are working.

    • I appreciate your comments particularly the fact that you participated in counting of those sea lions, but as MS. Young pointed out during her testimony before the congressional committee on house resolution 946, the entire issue is to increase fish returns to the Columbia River system. The selecting of sea lions as a focus point without considering a large number of other factors that may have an equal or greater impact seems entirely an overreach and exclusively detrimental to these marine mammals.The Marine Mammal Protective Act evolved to protect those species at risk. Granted the sea lion populations have greatly increased under protection but the proposed changes to what is allowed under 946 would impose drastic changes that are totally unacceptable in my estimation..

  3. Pingback: Part II. Killing Columbia River Sea Lions is not the Answer « Champions for Cetaceans

    • Thanks Barbara, working together people of similar minds can do a great deal supporting their concerns for all marine creatures. Sea lions of the Columbia River based on what is being proposed, will suffer if HR 946 is passed. May I ask, did you sign the ChangeII petition?This is Ed

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