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Senate makes a tough choice — Salmon or sea lions?

The decision to euthanize sea lions was prompted by the rebounding numbers of California sea lions that dramatically increased from about 30,000 in the 1960s to about 300,000 under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, according to the Seattle Times.

Senate Bill 3119, which passed Thursday by unanimous consent, would streamline the process for Washington, Idaho, Oregon and several Pacific Northwest Native American tribes to capture and euthanize potentially hundreds of sea lions found in the Columbia River east of Portland, Oregon.

Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, co-sponsored the bill with senators from all three states. He said the bill would ensure the future of healthy salmon populations. “As endangered salmon face extinction, we must take steps to protect them,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, said in a statement.

A school of Chinook salmon.

A school of Chinook salmon.
Zureks (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Senate bill is similar to one passed in the House of Representatives in June, sponsored by Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington Republican, Kurt Schrader, an Oregon Democrat, and others. Both bills will have to be considered by the different chambers before the final version goes to President Trump for his signature.

Not everyone likes the bill
Of course, not everyone likes the idea of killing sea lions or for that matter, any marine life. We’re having enough trouble as it is, just keeping our wildlife alive. While sea lion numbers have rebounded since 1972, over-fishing, environmental and ecological changes have nearly decimated salmon stocks.

So protecting endangered salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest, including British Columbia, Canada, is necessary. Critics call the Senate bill “ill-conceived.” They say the bill won’t solve the problem of declining salmon, which also face other problems such as habitat loss and dams.

“This bill changes the core protective nature of the Marine Mammal Protection Act by allowing for the indiscriminate killing of sea lions throughout the Columbia River and its tributaries,” Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, said in a statement.

At Astoria  Oregon s East Mooring Basin...Sea Lion Hotel.

At Astoria, Oregon’s East Mooring Basin…Sea Lion Hotel.
Zack Heinstand

The rules right now require a long and rigorous process to take place before a sea lion is killed by authorities. This includes observing a specific sea lion eating a salmon and using non-lethal hazing measures on them. Both the Senate and House bills would eliminate this step.

States and several Native American tribes could get a federal permit to remove any sea lion east of the Interstate 205 bridge that connects Vancouver, Washington, with Portland, as well as in tributaries of the Columbia River where there are federally protected fish. Native American tribes, including the Yakama Nation, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes, also would be granted authority to manage sea lions.

Perhaps most importantly, sea lions would not be indiscriminately killed under the new law. Both bills specifically state that the number of sea lions removed cannot exceed 10 percent of a specified level, called the potential biological removal. For California sea lions, for example, that limit would be no more than 920 animals.

British Columbia and its sea lion problems
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada reported last week that of 16 chinook salmon populations studied, eight are endangered, four are threatened and one is considered of special concern.

Some people are saying that B.C.’s declining salmon populations are due to increasing numbers of sea lions and seals eating the salmon. But fishery officials say the problem is far more complex, and includes the part of their lives the salmon spend in the ocean and the above average warmth of the river waters where salmon spawn.

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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