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Why Are We Still Killing Sea Lions at the Bonneville Dam?

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.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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9:09AM PST on Nov 12, 2014

how can there be SALMON CAT FOOD when salmon are threatened w/extinction?????

12:19AM PDT on Jul 23, 2014

Diane L. shouldn't be talking on a site about conservation. She sounds like an invasive species herself.

12:18AM PDT on Jul 23, 2014

I should include the USDA as one of the gang of domestic terrorists disguised as government. Government agencies that have gone rogue deliberately hire criminals who are sponsored by the worst possible corporate and government thugs.

12:15AM PDT on Jul 23, 2014

The FWS, Army Corps of Engineers, BLM are actually domestic terror organizations masquerading as government. Those thugs should be treated the same way as a terrorist trying to sabotage infrastructure, since they are doing worse than that.

8:57AM PDT on Jul 22, 2014

Need to find a better way of handling the situation ASAP.

8:04AM PDT on Jun 30, 2014

In other places they kill feral cats for killing birds.......the human race is hands down top of the heap for destroying wildlife habitats and bringing countless native species to the brink of extinction, or actual extinction. If that's not enough, humans are usually the cause for other invasive species moving into non native areas.

12:43PM PDT on May 17, 2014

I think the bottom line here is that HUMANS have overfished the salmon to the point that any animal that eats salmon is suffering the consequences. And, of course, since we were the ones to screw up the food chain, we will kill anything that gets in our way to food, to cash. When are humans going to figure out that it is OUR fault and not the fault of every other living creature on this earth. The reason the sea lions are on the precious columbia? They are so over fished so they have to go where the fish are.

Blaming and killing birds too? OMG the stupidity. But then again, this is wildlife "officials".

As for sympathy,..I have none for the humans who caused this problem to begin with.

6:58AM PDT on May 14, 2014

It's all mother nature that every species on this planet have to depend on others to survive. So it's normal that sea lions eat fish, so do a lot of other mammals. Lions, tigers, crocodile zebra, deer and all that they can get and so forth, but humans eat EVERYTHING, like it's not enough; they kill if other species that are in their way. Instead of sharing and living harmoniously with the rest. Yes, humans are extremely invasive, selfish, greedy and in fact, evil! We humans create alot of problems to ourselves and yet, we continue to invade and destroy our own planet. Killing is never a solution, it's an excuse for humans to get their benefit and make everything available for ourselves. It's sad to have intelligent but so sad to live without wisdom and kindness.

9:33PM PDT on May 5, 2014

Elaine, the California Sea Lions' diet is not primarily salmon, but many species of fish. You're missing the fact that they are CALIFORNIA sea lions, not a species native to The Columbia River. Sea Lions consume salmon, yes, but while they are in the Pacific Ocean. The fish runs these few are picking off are in migration and in a holding pattern at the base of a large hydro-electric dam where they basically are "sitting ducks" (fish) for these voracious mammals. In open waters, the salmon have a chance, but in the holding pens while waiting to negotiate the fish ladders, they do not. They are there only because they're trying to return to where they were born in order to spawn, themselves and then they will die. If they are eaten before they have a chance to return to their spawning grounds, they will eventually become extinct, and some runs already have.

7:01PM PDT on May 5, 2014

These animals' natural food is salmon. Humans can survive on many other sources of food. Killing an animal species who takes less than 2% of the Columbia's salmon is just a smokescreen for all the salmon-destroying dams, fertilizers, and other results of Man's stupidity and carelessness. I've witnessed the 4 - 5 foot tall flames leaping from the bodies of these poor creatures as they are branded. It made me scream and vomit!

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