Washington, Oregon congressmen push to allow hunting of salmon-hungry sea lions on Columbia River

Monday, October 16th 2006, 10:08 pm
By: News On 6

NORTH BONNEVILLE, Wash. (AP) -- Fishery officials have tried just about everything to keep California sea lions from munching on threatened salmon migrating up the Columbia River -- from yelling at them to setting off firecrackers. But nothing has worked.

On Monday, two Washington state congressmen announced at Bonneville Dam -- where the pesky and portly pinnepeds have been doing most of their munching -- that they are going to enlist Congress for help.

Sea lions are protected by federal law. But Republican Doc Hastings and Democrat Brian Baird said they will introduce a bill that would let officials from the two states, as well as American Indians, quickly obtain permits to kill a limited number of sea lions that are going after salmon in the Columbia.

"These sea lions have bellied up to an endangered salmon buffet and they will be eating thousands and thousands of fish right here this spring if we don't do something about it," Hastings said.

They say numerous attempts to scare the sea lions off, including yelling at them, shocking them and exploding fireworks, have failed.

When the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972, there were about 50,000 California sea lions. Oregon officials say their numbers have grown to 300,000.

The bill proposed by Baird and Hastings could allow the states to kill some of the sea lions as early as next spring. The expedited process would be temporary -- just three years.

Under the proposal, officials from those states and the Columbia River tribes would be able to apply for permits from the Secretary of Commerce to "lethally remove" up to 10 California sea lions over a 14-day period that are known to have "preyed upon salmon"
and have resisted efforts to scare them off.

The number of sea lions killed in a single year would not be allowed to exceed 1 percent of what's known as the Potential Biological Removal level, or 80 California sea lions a year in this case.

Michael Garrity, associate director of American Rivers, an environmental group, objects to the bill, saying dams and the degradation of salmon species' habitat is more to blame for their decline in numbers.

"It seems like whenever the federal government's failures to restore these salmon become obvious, you often see relatively minor problems like sea lions scapegoated," Garrity said.