NOAA Fisheries has made a last-ditch effort to save salmon in danger of being decimated by seals and sea lions that have emerged from the coast to prey on fish near the Bonneville Dam, which is in the basin of the Columbia River.
Determined to prevent a massive influx of California sea lions from killing off endangered adult spring Chinook salmon and steelhead in the area, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration authorized the Department of Fish and Wildlife on July 6 to begin using euthanasia as the preferred sea lion deterrent for three Northwest states: Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
Sea lions are guarded under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but only in areas where they do not present a risk to Northwest salmon. According to NOAA’s latest press release on the subject, any “individually identifiable sea lions or seals” seen engaging in predation upon salmon in the Columbia River will be immediately euthanized.
This call to action is seen as controversial to some, resulting in lawsuits in favor of pinniped rights when the killings were first authorized in 2008. However, the action will help lessen the severe impact of the 300,000 or so sea lions that have emerged from the West Coast into mainland waters, in terms of their ability to prey on fish. One-fourth of these fish species are currently listed as endangered.
“Last year, sea lions were estimated to have consumed nearly 10,000 adult spring Chinook salmon, amounting to more than 3% of returning adult fish,” NOAA stated in its West Coast Region news brief, which was released at the end of last month.
NOAA Fisheries’ eventual goal is to eliminate via capture or euthanasia any sea lions or seals that have had a “significant negative impact” on endangered fish species.
Recent efforts by Fish & Wildlife along with various local communities to deter sea lions from salmon and steelhead predation have included methods of hazing by way of exclusionary gating, pyrotechnics, rubber bullets, and in the town of Astoria, “air dancers” positioned on docks to frighten away the animals.
Because none of these methods have proved successful, NOAA authorized the departments of Fish & Wildlife of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to continue euthanizing sea lions for the next five years. The license to kill will expire in June 2021.
By Kiki Genoa