At the end of last month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to block a policy that gave states permission to kill up to 85 sea lions a year from 2008 to 2012.
The decision came after a three-year campaign by In Defense of Animals (IDA) and the Sea Lion Defense Brigade (SLDB) to protect the sea lions living in the Columbia River that runs between Oregon and Washington. Plaintiffs against the state-sanctioned killing included the Humane Society of the United States, Wild Fish Conservancy and two private citizens.
The National Marine Fisheries Service had allowed Oregon, Washington and Idaho to kill sea lions that were living on salmon and steelhead in an effort to increase fish populations in the river. The court ruled that the government did not meet requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Sea lions, who prey on .04 to 4.2 percent of the spring salmon run at the base of the Bonneville Dam did not have “a significant negative impact” considering the same agencies allow fishermen to take up to 17 percent of the fish returning to spawn, according to IDA.
“This is a huge victory for sea lions and salmon. We are relieved to see an end to the unethical, politically motivated killing of native, protected sea lions,” said IDA’s Northwest Director Matt Rossell. “We hope these agencies will now address the human-caused threats to salmon recovery – over-fishing, introduction of non-native fish, dams and habitat destruction.”
During the 2010 spring salmon season, IDA and SLDB volunteers held vigil near the Bonneville Dam to keep round-the-clock monitors on the trapping and killing and to educate the public and fishermen who continued to think the sea lions were competition. The group of fishermen are urging the government to appeal the decision and recommended that more sea lions should be shot from land and boat, or hauled out and shot.
Twenty-seven sea lions were killed under the program. Ten were taken into captivity. IDA fought an unsuccessful court battle to free one of the 10 sea lions that were taken into captivity. Willy, taken to a zoo in Texas, was misidentified by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and wrongfully removed from the river, according to IDA.
The federal agency has until early January to decide to file an appeal.
The tens of thousands of letters written to stop the killing of sea lions were effective and IDA is busy planning for 2011. With the support of concerned and caring people, they will continue with their campaigns to help animals and marine mammals like Willy and to stop cruel captures, lifetimes of captivity and for some, death.
Check out more of IDA’s 2010 victories for animals here.
Photo credit: creative commons