On May 12, 2011, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States Department of Commerce, authorized the states of Oregon and Washington to take lethal measures to remove up to 85 sea lions from the Bonneville Dam annually through June 2013. Per the letter signed by James H. Lecky, the animals can be shot by marksmen using high powered rifles or shotguns. Their crime - eating endangered salmon - the very same salmon that fishermen are being encouraged to catch in the very same waters.
On May 12, 2011, your agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States Department of Commerce, authorized the states of Oregon and Washington to take lethal measures to remove up to 85 sea lions from the Bonneville Dam annually through June 2013. Per the letter signed by you, the animals can be shot by marksmen using high powered rifles or shotguns.
The sea lions are to be killed for the act of consuming endangered salmon in the Columbia River. This is not a new issue. In 2008, NMFS proposed the euthanization of the salmon-eating sea lions at Bonneville Dam. A threatened lawsuit from the Humane Society resulted in an order from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to remove the sea lions but not kill them.
The sea lions presently slated for death are reported to account for about 4% of the salmon loss in the area of the Bonneville Dam. Conversely, in 2005 NMFS found that the annual take of up to 17% of salmon by fishermen had only “minimal adverse effects”. More recently, the current May 2011 issue of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Weekend Report stated, “Since late April, the number of chinook salmon passing Bonneville Dam has increased dramatically, opening the door to additional fishing opportunities,” said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Why the double standard? Why are fishermen being encouraged to take endangered salmon from the Columbia River and sea lions being shot for the very same action? While I am well aware that the salmon fishery is a vital component of the the economy of the Pacific Northwest, it seems to me that protecting marine mammals shouldn’t have to take a backseat to the needs of the fishermen.
The decline of fish stocks is a complex problem resulting from numerous factors including among others, overfishing, habitat destruction, and water quality issues. Sea lions eat salmon, but so do birds. Scapegoating the sea lions fails to take the bigger picture into consideration. While the killing may appear to be a short term victory for the fishermen of the Columbia River, in the long haul this will have little effect on the status of the endangered salmon or the overall health of the river. Federal funds, time and energy would be much better spent on finding alternative non-lethal solutions that we can all live with.