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. )