Why Are We Still Killing Sea Lions at the Bonneville Dam?
Wildlife officials are back at it with their war on sea lions at the Bonneville Dam this year simply because they’re doing what sea lions do: eating fish. Last week the first six California sea lions were trapped and killed as part of a plan to stop them from eating too many in the Columbia River.
The program has been controversial since it was first approved in 2008 by NOAA Fisheries Service when officials from Washington, Oregon and Idaho requested authority to lethally remove predatory sea lions who would normally be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Since then, dozens have been literally branded and killed, while 10 others have been taken and doomed to a life in captivity. The program was suspended in 2010 thanks to a court order, but last year a federal appeals court rejected the effort to save sea lions and put them back in jeopardy.
Animal advocates continue to argue that killing sea lions is a cruel and pointless waste and that they’re being used as scapegoats for real threats to salmon, which are mostly a result of human activities.
“Killing a sea lion won’t help salmon recovery. Sea lions come and go from the Dam. Killing them simply distracts from the fact that the major factors affecting salmon recovery remain largely unaddressed. This lethal program costs tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and wastes not only that money but the lives of the sea lions whose deaths accomplish nothing,” said Sharon Young, marine wildlife protection field director for The HSUS.
Even though sea lions account for a miniscule fraction of salmon loss in the Columbia River – between 1.5 to 4 percent every year – officials have continued to target them instead of addressing the primary threats to salmon, including habitat loss and modification, water diversion, overfishing, driftnet fishing in the ocean, the introduction of non-native fish for recreational fishing and of course the dam itself is kind of a really big problem for migrating salmon.
According to NOAA, “In general, predation rates on salmon are considered by most investigators to be an insignificant contribution to the large declines observed in west coast populations.”
Even though government agencies claim they’re trying to protect endangered salmon stocks and boost their numbers, quotas are still issued for commercial, recreational and tribal fishermen, who will be allowed to take up to 12 percent this year.
Sadly, officials aren’t drawing the line at sea lions either. In March the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dam, announced a plan that will allow for the killing of hundreds of birds, including gulls and cormorants, because they’ve also dared to dine on salmon. Even though these birds aren’t endangered, they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Given wildlife agencies’ own statements on threats to salmon, targeting sea lions and birds for simply eating what they’re supposed to be eating to stay alive, while allowing continued fishing of an endangered species and ignoring other human-caused threats is clearly not a justifiable or effective approach to wildlife management or salmon conservation.
Please sign and share the petition urging officials to stop targeting sea lions and birds in a misguided attempt to boost salmon numbers.
Photo credit: Thinkstock