March 19, 2008

Sea Lions at Risk Around Oregon Dam

Many sea lions frequenting their usual springtime spot at Bonneville Dam may be in danger of being put to death by federal authorities.

The National Marine Fisheries Service told officials in Oregon and Washington to first attempt to capture the sea lions to see if a local aquarium or zoo would take them. If that option didn't work, officials were told that the sea lions could be euthanized.

In a recent opinion article, Fidelia Andy, chairwoman of the Columbia Intertribal Fish Commission, said that a meeting comprised of scientists, conservationists, nonprofit leaders, and state and federal officials found that California sea lions are having a "significant negative impact on endangered fish."

She said that the ruling was the right decision, while asking for patience from the public.

"We, as river people, remember a time when balance existed among all beings in a healthy and functioning ecosystem," Andy wrote. "Dams have upset that balance. Tribal people were promised that while society reaped the benefits of dams, there would be a parallel acceptance of responsibility to mitigate and manage their impacts."

Andy also noted that the sea lions patrol the entrance of the Bonneville fish ladder, which ends the predator-prey relationship.

"In our view, this situation puts the integrity of both species in jeopardy," she said.

However, John Balzar, spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States, said that fishermen catch three times as many salmon as the sea lions eat, and Oregon and Washington have proposed higher fishing quotas.

An amendment to the 1972 Marine Mammals Protection Act permits the killing of sea lions if Columbia River states get federal permission. Oregon and Washington asked for the permission in 2006, and Idaho offered its support.

In the 1990s similar actions were taken against sea lions in the Ballard Locks in Puget Sound in Washington.

Sharon Young of the Human Society said the group is studying documents to determine if a court challenge is in order.


On the Net:

National Marine Fisheries Service

Bonneville Dam Photo Credit: Eric Guinther

Columbia Intertribal Fish Commission

Humane Society of the United States

1972 Marine Mammals Protection Act (PDF)