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House Considers Authorizing Killing of Sea Lions– to Save Endangered Salmon

The US House of Representatives held a hearing this morning to debate allowing the killing of sea lions to save endangered salmon in the Columbia River.

According to McClatchy Newspapers, the House Natural Resources Committee convened the hearing to discuss the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act (HR 946), an innocuous sounding piece of legislation that would authorize Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest to kill sea lions in order to help the salmon population replenish itself.

“As Northwest residents spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to protect salmon, California sea lions camp out at Bonneville Dam and other areas along the Columbia River and gorge themselves on endangered fish,” said Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), the chairman of the committee. Hastings says that 6,000 salmon were killed by sea lions last year alone.

According to Raw Story, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) authorized the killing of sea lions along a 140-mile (225 km) stretch of the Columbia River below the Bonneville Dam.

“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., NOAA’s Northwest regional administrator for fisheries.

While proponents of the “lethal removal” of sea lions assure that only tribal members and Oregon and Washington state wildlife officials will be permitted to kill sea lions, the Humane Society opposes the measure on the grounds that it could encourage “vigilante killings” of the animals. Sharon Young, marine issues field director for the Humane Society, calls HR 946 “unnecessary” and “potentially dangerous.”

“As written, any sea lion seen with a fish in its mouth could be shot by an individual with permission to kill,” she said.

Young, who testified at today’s hearing, told the Daily Caller that “if you kill some of them others come, so you don’t actually stop anything. You are just killing sea lions and making it look like you’re doing something, where in fact you are not doing anything at all because sea lions come and go all the time and completely obviates any benefit you might get from removing some of them. It simply doesn’t work.”

But wildlife officials say they’ve exhausted non-lethal methods of sea lion removal, and nothing seems to work. Part of the problem is that their population continues to rapidly increase. A century ago, there were only a few thousand sea lions. Today, they number around 238,000.

If HR 946 is approved, around 85 sea lions could be killed each year.

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