Sea Lions v. Salmon
February 7, 2009
On January 29, 2009 Oregon federal district court judge Michael Mosman denied the Humane Society of the United States' request for a stay to prevent states from using lethal force against sea lions near the base of the Bonneville Dam. These pinnipeds gather around this dam in the Columbia River to feed off of the returning salmon during spring runs, and many groups concerned with the recovery of the salmon are fearful that the sea lions are putting to much pressure on the already struggling species
A couple decades ago, a few California sea lions started making the long trip from their home in the Pacific Ocean the Bonneville Dam. Over time, their numbers have swelled and scientists now conservatively estimate these mammals consume around 4.2 percent of the spring run. Included in this run are the Chinook salmon and steelhead, an endangered and a threatened species respectively. After failed attempts to scare the sea lions away with firecrackers and guns shooting beanbags, NOAA Fisheries Service granted permission to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho in March 2008 to remove up to 85 sea lions by either killing them or transporting them to aquariums or zoos.
The Humane Society of the United States challenged this decision stating that this agency had violated the Marine Mammals Protection Act by permitting "lethal take 'without adequately determining whether predation is having a significant negative impact on the decline or recovery' of listed salmonids." This group also points out that the sea lions take much less than fisherman or the many dams that are located on the Columbia River. Following their challenge, the Humane Society of the United States also requested a preliminary injunction while the Court assesses the merits of their case, which the Ninth Circuit granted.
When a sea lion died after being captured, the Humane Society of the United States insisted on a moratorium on capturing these animals until a complete investigation was conducted. This moratorium was granted, but expires March 1, 2009. While the Humane Society continues to battle the January 29th decision in court and in public, this controversy begs many questions concerning the effectiveness of the NOAA Fisheries Service and whether sea lion are the appropriate species to blame for hampering the salmonids' recovery.
Joseph B. Frazier, Judge Won't Grant Stay Sparing Sea Lions, The Seattle Times, Jan 29, 2009, available at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008687396_websealions29.html.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Status and Potential Exposure of ESA-Listed Columbia River Salmonids to California Sea Lion Predation, http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/sealions/endangered_fish.htm (last visited Feb. 4, 2009).
The Columbia Basin, Litigation Stalls Sea Lion Kills; Non-Lethal Removal Allowed, Fish & Wildlife New Bulletin, Apr. 4, 2008, http://www.cbbulletin.com/Free/268496.aspx (last visited Feb. 4, 2009).
Shreema Mehta, Salmon Advocates Say Kill Dams, Not Sea Lions, The New Standard, Apr. 17, 2007, http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/4688 (last visited Feb. 4, 2009).
Dylan Rivera, Ruling Goes Against Sea Lions; Humane Society Plans Appeal, The Oregonian, Jan. 30, 2009, http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/01/ruling_goes_against_sea_lions.html.