When a federal agency was faced with the tough decision of protecting endangered salmon traveling up the Columbia River on their way home to spawn or get rid of the sea lions that feast on them at the Bonneville Dam, the agency ruled in favor of the fish.
The outcome of their decision allows 85 sea lions to be killed.
Washington and Oregon won the approval late last week from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is the second attempt for the two states to get the ruling. In 2008, the Humane Society of the United States won a reprieve for the sea lions in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
NOAA officials said the decision was difficult to make. For the past decade, the agency has tried all sorts of humane methods to move the sea lions to other areas. They have physically relocated the most problematic fish eating culprits and used firecrackers and rubber bullets to scare other sea lions away.
Since 2008, a total of 37 animals have been removed from the dam. Ten were placed in zoos, one died during an examination and the remaining 26 were euthanized.
Ultimately NOAA has failed to deter the sea lions from eating a substantial number of salmon and steelhead. Both fish have been protected by the federal Endangered Species Act since the early 1990s.
On the other hand, NOAA says California sea lions are thriving and estimates their population to be 238,000.
The NOAA website said, “This is not an easy decision for our agency to make, but a thorough analysis shows that a small number of California sea lions preying on salmon and steelhead are having a significant effect on the ability of the fish stocks to recover,” said William W. Stelle Jr., Northwest regional administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “Today’s authorization allows state fisheries and natural resource agencies to carefully remove California sea lions to reduce their effect on vulnerable fish species.”
A representative from HSUS told Reuters the group may go back to court to challenge the ruling.
According to NOAA, the agency’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.
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Photo from Creative Commons - Mike Baird