Sea Lions Vs. Salmon: A Wildlife Protection Dilemma

At the Bonnerville Dam, on the Colombia River between Oregon and Washington, smart sea lions are creating a conservation nightmare as they eat up threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead.

Hundreds of California sea lions and increasingly the much larger Steller sea lions prey on the fish, returning to spawn in the same place they were born, at congested fish ladders by the dam. Conservationists estimate that up to a fifth of the returning salmon are being lost. They fear a repeat of the decimation of steelhead at Ballard Locks in Seattle in 1994; that run is now extinct.

California sea lions have learned to swim up to 145 miles upriver to the fish ladders. They have recently been joined by Steller sea lions, who take five times as many fish.

Trying to stop them are a small group of officers from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC). They use non-lethal hazing methods, but in March the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service granted lethal rights to remove 92 California sea lions deemed “problematic.” After a legal case by the Humane Society, that number was dropped to 30.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, California sea lion numbers have tripled, but the similarly protected salmon are in trouble.

CRITFC senior fish scientist Doug Hatch says that the removal program is necessary and that the increasing numbers of Steller sea lions point to a looming catastrophe. He says:

Salmon not only supply protein to people and animals such as bears and eggs. They also transport marine derived nutrients to the inland forests and aquatic ecosystem.

We just want to give the salmon to have to pass through a gauntlet of sea lions a chance to get to the eight fish ladder entrances at Bonneville Dam.

Related stories:

British Columbia First Nation Goes Green (Video)

The Bottom Line: Little Fish Do Matter

Itís Not About the Fish

Picture by ZaNia


Linda W.
Linda W6 years ago

Sea Lions = Scape goats
Overfishing & introduced fatal parasites are only two of the reasons for the diminished Salmon populations

Carrie Anne Brown

sad news but thanks for sharing

Shel G.
Shel G6 years ago

As long as the human population keeps exploding, there just isn't enough habitat left to support ecosystems like those that house the sea lion and salmon.

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton6 years ago

These animals are hungry. If we can spend money to kill them, we should have the money to give them contraceptives. What the hell is wrong with you people. Rot in hell!!!

Robert Miles
Robert Miles6 years ago

I've found the name of a vegetable that might reduce the demand for salmon - purslane.
It supplies the same EPA and DHA forms of omega-3 that are found in wild salmon. Since farmed salmon often have little omega-3 in their diets (as opposed to the large amounts from their natural diets), it also seems worthwhile to try adding purslane to their diets and see if that improves their health. Not very well known as food in the US; it is often considered a weed instead in the US. More popular in Europe, where it grows wild. Sometimes available as an ingredient in mesclun salads.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

Letting nature work, is usually the best course -- the fish ladders are adding an unfair advantage for the sea lions. What is supposed to eat sea lions? Humans interfering, is often the problem.

Sue Griffiths
SUE Griffiths6 years ago

If man is capable of building dams, then surely he's capable of erecting a guard to stop the sea lions getting through whilst allowing fish to swim through. It's the least they can do seeing as man caused the problem in the first place. Seems the easiest answer to every thing is to kill. Well it doesn't have to be the easiest, just try the best

Veronique L.
Veronique L6 years ago

I agree with both Kamryn & Anita! Very wise ladies...

Kamryn M.
Kay M6 years ago

as if man didn't mess things up in the first place.

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch6 years ago

The lower salmon stocks are due to environmental conditions, and overfishing, NOT predation from sea lions. The small percentage of salmon taken/eaten by sea lions is just a fraction of the total amount taken by fishermen.