Tues 10/29: Don’t shoot the messengers! Write a comment to protect sea lions from our own folly by 11:59 pm EST tonight!

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Comment: Killing sea lions is a man-made solution to a man-made problem.

Now, we’re seeing a marine version of shooting our way out of a problem. (Land version here.) Sea lions are being blamed unfairly for the declining population of salmon. The regulation we’re writing about today wants to allow up to 1,100 a year to be slaughtered to keep them from feeding on salmon and steelhead crowded together at “pinch points” at dams of the Columbia River, an man-made buffet opportunity that did not exist when the river was free-flowing. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), passed in 1972, outlawed the killing of any marine mammal, with exemptions for limited sport and commercial hunting and culls of “nuisance” animals. Fishing vessels were also allowed to shoot at sea lions as a deterrent from fouling their gear. Now a number of tribal groups are requesting authorization to kill California and Steller sea lions near the main stem of the Columbia River between or in any tributary to the Columbia River that includes spawning habitat of threatened or endangered salmon or steelhead.

If there was a chance that sea lions were the right target, and that sacrificing some of them would protect an endangered fish species, we might agree with them. But they’re not. We’re the ones who ruined salmon habitat by damming up their rivers, which, in turn, created the concentrated fishing spots for the sea lions, an animal smart enough to be trained by the U.S. Navy for underwater searches. We want to save salmon? Pull down the dams. Let the rivers run free again and let the fish skip past their hunters. (This video is about the Snake River, which has 15 dams. The Snake River and Yakima River join the Columbia River in the Tri‑Cities population center. Today the main stem of the Columbia River has 14 dams, of which three are in Canada and 11 in the US. )

  • Write a comment here.
  • Read the proposed regulation here.
  • Read other people’s comments here. Your comment does not need to be long. It can be a couple of sentences. You can look over other people’s comments and get inspiration. You will notice that there are a lot of identical ones. Please! DO NOT COPY SOMEONE ELSE’S COMMENT. YOUR COMMENT WILL BE “CULLED.”

Deeper dive

Scapegoating sea lions: Killing sea lions “is a kind of scapegoating when there are a lot of other actions we are choosing not to do that would have a larger impact,” said Emma Helverson, spokeswoman for the Wild Fish Conservancy. Fish populations plummeted starting in the 1960s, the result of commercial overharvesting, human development, the impact of hatchery fish on wild fish and rampant dam building.

Dams: Sockeye salmon travel over 900 miles from the ocean to reach their spawning grounds in Idaho and then they have to fight their way through an exhausting series of dams to get there, decimating fish stocks that many species depend on as a food source. Dams cause warmer water, slower flows, ineffective fish passage and, at hydroelectric dams, the spinning turbine blades and intense water pressure in the turbine pits that could stun or literally implode the tiny juvenile fish heading back down to the sea.(How removing dams helps fish populations)(Dams: impacts on salmon and steelhead)

Reservoirs: The deep water behind dams is dangerous to salmon too. Deep-water predators like pike and bass eat young salmon. Stagnant reservoir water can go above 21 C (70 F) when warmed by warmed by the sun and agricultural runoff. These temperatures are fatal to smolt and cause adult salmon stop migrating and seek shelter in cooler waters. If the heat forces them to wait too long, they can run out of energy reserves or fall prey to disease. Some salmon are just living out their whole lives in dam pools, which means they aren’t an available food source for the rest of the eco-system that depends on them, more than 135 other fish and wildlife poputlations benefit from the presence of wild salmon and steelhead.

Drought: In addition, extreme drought is causing reduced snowpacks in the Northwest, which, in 2015, raised Columbia River water temperature to near-lethal levels, killing off half of the Columbia’s sockeye salmon run, around 250,000 fish.

Extinction blame misplaced: Ninette Jones of the Sea Lion Defense Brigade states “The salmon populations were going extinct when there were no sea lions in the river back in the ‘80s,” she said. “So to draw the connection that the sea lions are causing the extinction of salmon it’s basically scapegoating but it’s not going to address the real cause of the extinction of salmon. Even if they killed all the sea lions it’s not going to save the salmon.”

Related eco-system disaster caused by us: A pod of orcas off Washington’s coast appears heading for extinction partly due to dwindling numbers of chinook salmon, their main food. From 2015 to 2018, not a single killer whale calf born in the pod survived, according to a task force convened by Gov. Jay Inslee (D).

It’s us!.: (Humane Society)”The sea lions contribute only a small percentage of the total take of chinook salmon. We humans are responsible for a far larger share of the mortality. Salmon return each spring to spawn in the tributaries of the Columbia River, and the greatest cause of their deaths is the series of dams and blocked passages that threaten their ability to travel and reproduce.

Fixes not happening: In 2015, a court ordered the states to fix hundreds of barriers built under state roads and highways that block access for migrating salmon, yet action to comply with that decree has been slow and grudging. What’s more, fishermen are allowed to catch and kill up to 17 percent of the salmon in the spring run. Many of the fish that die are from endangered stocks.

Non-native fish added for fun: Yet another human-caused factor contributing to the salmon’s troubles are non-native bass and walleye, intentionally dumped in the river to create more recreational opportunities for sport fishermen. A report by government scientists found that these non-native fish eat up to two million young salmon each year and compete with the adults for spawning habitat….”

Why sea lions are important: Sea Lions are an important part of the Pacific Northwest Ecology.

  • Sea Lions bring important nutrients up river and their fecal flora are cornerstone in the food chain for all life in our oceans and rivers.
  • Scientists found that having pinnipeds in the estuary increases the productivity of the estuary and increases the bio diversity of the bio-region. Researchers conclude that removing pinnipeds undermines the productivity of the Columbia River estuary. The populations of fish that now inhabit the Columbia River estuary are 90% hatchery and non-native fish such as small mouth bass stocked by WDFW and ODFW for sport fishing.
  • Sea lions predate upon the weak, the sick,& the genetically inferior hatchery fish, pike minnow, and non-native fish such as bass, American shad, northern pike, channel catfish, walleye, and yellow perch. Only humans predate on the biggest and the strongest fish. healthy game fish swim faster than sea lions do.

Are we serious about saving salmon?: According to former Idaho Fish and Game biologist, Steve Pettit, the four dams must be breached if there is any hope of recovering the fish. “If you don’t,” he said, “you are just dooming them.” Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R), recently launched a “salmon workgroup” but he immediately took dam removal off the table, despite the fact that the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that sells the electricity produced by the dams, is $15 billion dollars in debt, eclipsed by wind and solar power, while facing expensive maintenance work. Said Pettit: “It’s like the definition of insanity. Doing the same thing every year and expecting a different result.”

Besides writing a comment, what can I do?

Jacques White, executive director of Long Live the Kings, a 31-year-old conservation organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the wild salmon and steelhead populations stated “Choices made at the grocery store can help save salmon, too. Some Pacific Northwest products are marked with Salmon-Safe eco-labeling. This label recognizes farmers who adopt conservations practices that help promote healthy watersheds and protect native salmon habitat, says David J. Burger, executive director of Stewardship Partners, an organization focused on improving watershed health.

“The Salmon-Safe label is a great addition to organic certification because it shows a commitment to restoring local salmon streams, an important issue to farm customers and community,” Burger says. “Farms that go through the assessment sometimes have conditions that identify areas for improvement that include; manure management, fish passage, habitat restoration (planting trees and shrubs) and improving irrigation practices.”

 

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