Part II. Killing Columbia River Sea Lions is not the Answer


By Ed Johnson
California Sea Lion

California Sea Lions

This is a continuation of my blog of June 30 which was the result of testimony provided to US House of Rep. Hearing before the SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE, OCEANS AND INSULAR AFFAIRS, held June 14, 2011 on House Resolution (HR) 946 which if passed would allow killing of sea lions as a means of helping to restore Columbia River salmon runs.  In particular Sharon Young representing Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) made a rather brilliant presentation which is most worthy of your reading. I will include her concluding statement, followed by my own comments on additional factors that should be more fully explored before this lethal solution is implemented.  Sharon Young on HR 946, “In closing, we believe that this proposed legislation is not only unnecessary but potentially dangerous.  It is unnecessary because the number of sea lions at the Dam is down.  Their residency time at the Dam is reduced.  The percentage of fish in the run that are eaten has declined each year for the past four years even as the percentage of the same fish killed by fishermen has risen.  Moreover, other sources of salmon mortality, such as hydropower operations, ocean fisheries and the management of hatchery programs, have not been adequately addressed. In some cases, such as the stocking of non-indigenous fish for recreational purposes, the severe negative impacts to salmon have not been addressed at all.  Sea lions come and go throughout the river throughout the season—it is not a situation in which there is only a handful of predators that can easily be eliminated and thus eliminate predation. As the lethal program of the past 3 years has shown, the percentage of predation-related salmon mortality and the size of salmon runs remain independent of sea lions were killed in a given year.  Killing sea lions wastes time and money and lives and does little to benefit the salmon. But we are also concerned that this bill has less apparent dangers inherent in its language.  It would sacrifice public involvement and transparency in the name of speed.  It sets a dangerous precedent of exempting a controversial wildlife management program from National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) analysis.  It also sets the stage for a return to the vigilante action against sea lions that existed prior to the 1972 passage of the MMPA when the states employed professional shooters in the river and members of the public killed seals and sea lions out of frustration or for sport.  We oppose H.R. 946 and urge you to vote against it.”  http://naturalresources.house.gov/UploadedFiles/YoungTestimony06.14.11.pdf  The complete hearing on HR 946 can be found at:  http://naturalresources.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=244930

The seven page testimony makes clear and concise arguments using data from documents previously submitted as well as an item by item referencing to the specific articles within section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) that will be violated if House Resolution (HR) 946 is passed. A point that was totally lacking in reviews written by the popular press as well as internet coverage was their failure to expose passage would severally restrict public input when such matters are subsequently considered. This would be totally contrary to what Congress had intended when the MMPA Act was passed in 1972.

Cannon Beach, Oregon, with Haystack Rock on th...

Image via Wikipedia

For the past forty years I have lived very near the Pacific Ocean in Cannon Beach, OR., and on occasion have witnessed dead sea lions at the shoreline. Recently after the occurrence of several dead pinnipeds I contacted local field workers from the Marine Mammal Strand Network to find what they had determined as the cause of death. Too often the response was gunshot wounds. MS. Young made reference to “vigilante” acts of the past but I am here to tell you that although marine mammals are protected, fishermen will continue to take whatever action deemed necessary to preserve what they consider their rightful catch. I mention this because these acts are purely in violation of the law under MMPA and offenders should be prosecuted, however enforcement is mostly impossible to this point in time. HS 946 would be a further intrusion on local sea-lion populations and only encourage continuation and potentially expanding rogue killings by threatened fishermen.

When man intrudes and makes changes nature generally reacts with some form of counter balancing. In the Columbia River, its estuary and the ocean beyond, we find this issue playing itself out. Killing sea lions may seem to be a solution however nature seems to be providing solutions that will be mentioned. Dredging of the Columbia from its mouth to Portland is an ongoing process which has resulted huge amounts of sand that must be deposited. The result has been the creation of off channel islands that became perfect habitat for birds. Caspian terns unheard of in this area 40 years ago have created one of the world’s largest colonies for that species, 16,000 last year. A number that has been rather stable for over ten years until this season when that number dropped by at least 4,000. What happened was the realization by raptors, primarily bald eagles and to a lesser degree falcons and owls, that an excessive population existed which has meant lunch. Terns, the Caspian variety, required on the order of some 300-700 salmon smolts per bird during breeding season, and have created a management problem, like sea lions. Rather than dealing with the evolvement of those strategies, will indicate what happened this year based on the presences of the previously mentioned raptors. They have patrolled the air ways and destroying nests, and with the aid of gulls eating the eggs apparently no terns have hatched, up to 6,000 nests destroyed! (note  read ,http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2011/06/on_east_sand_island_at_the_mou.html for the more information including a video). I realize that my picture lacks cormorants and brown pelicans which are part of the above story, but my focus was on a predator prey relationship operating in the natural world rather than man invoking his traditional hammer, lethal force and gunning down innocent  seals. It appears that

Bald Eagle

Image by Јason via Flickr

Bald Eagles   are for this year the balancing force which could increase the desired salmon runs and have not been mentioned in any aspect of House Resolution 946.

A second factor includes Bald Eagles and pinnipeds. Local coastal explores have found cases where local populations of pinnipeds after having birthed offspring only to have their young attacked and devoured by Bald Eagles, leaving only skeletal remains. The exact species of pinniped was not identified but the possibility that again a predator relationship is being established which has long-term consequences on sea-lion populations. Sharon Young in her testimony before the House SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE, OCEANS AND INSULAR AFFAIRS, indicated that only a limited number of options had been considered before coming to the decision of killing sea lions as the solution to increase salmon runs. Here again we have an apparent exploding population of Bald Eagles along the Northern coast of Oregon and along the Columbia that is involved in the recent dynamics of species. The consequences should be in the mix before HR 946 is acted upon.

My final inclusion is that of Killer Whales,off shore and transient populations, who traditionally hunt pinnipeds, which is another example of controlling excess sea lion populations, if in fact such a thing really does exist. In my first post on this topic, https://championsforcetaceans.com/2011/06/30/save-columbia-river-sea-lions/, I made the connections among overfishing, declining sea lion populations and orca predation which had taken place in Alaskan waters. Sharon Young did not present any information that indicated Killer Whales could be any part of the solution. What she did testify was that other solutions existed short of killing sea lions as the solution. Please let congress know that HR 946 is not the answer and its foundation will be to the detriment of marine mammals as well as the public’s right to be involved in decisions impacting the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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