Sacrificing Sea Lions for Salmon

Beginning in April, game managers in Oregon can start killing sea lions.© U.S. Fish & Wildlife

In what seems a cruel twist of fate for wildlife just out for a bite to eat, the National Marine Fisheries Service last week gave permission to game managers in Washington and Oregon to start killing sea lions that feed on dwindling populations of migrating salmon near the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. Bonneville is one of several dams on the Columbia at least partly responsible for the great decline of wild salmon populations. The fish have trouble getting past the dams on their way back upstream to spawn after spending their adolescence at sea. In response to this problem, Bonneville and some of the other Columbia dams have installed fish ladders so spawning salmon can swim past the man-made obstructions. The National Marine Fisheries Services has decided that the sea lions are eating more than their share of endangered salmon by staking out the entrance to the fish ladders to catch unsuspecting schooling fish.

The move comes as a last-ditch effort to solve the problem after other more humane attempts to deter the sea lions failed to work. The states are allowed to kill up to 85 sea lions a year in the area until the feeding frenzy abates. Before problem sea lions are killed, they must be trapped and held for 48 hours while fisheries managers try to find a zoo or aquarium willing to take them. Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife will spearhead the sea lion eradication campaign beginning in April.Not surprisingly, animal rights groups are angered by the decision, contending that innocent sea lions shouldn’t have to pay such a high price for taking advantage of a man-made situation.

"The claim that sea lions must die to protect salmon is entirely bogus, and more than a little disingenuous," said John Balzar of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), which supports "non-lethal harassment" of sea lions at Bonneville Dam. "If the government really thought salmon were so critically imperiled that we need to start slaughtering their natural predators, they wouldn’t allow fishermen to catch three times more fish than sea lions are eating."

Sources: HSUS; Planet Ark