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Salmon Toll Rises, Sea Lions Are Dying

November 8, 2009

The killing of 25 California sea lions over the past two years has had no affect on the growing population of salmon at the base of Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates sea lions ate 4,960 salmon and steelhead during the spring of 2009. That compares to an adjusted estimate of 4,927, or 2.9 percent of the run, in 2008.

Sharon Young of the Humane Society of the United States said the numbers show that trying to restore salmon by killing predators does not work at a place like Bonneville Dam.

She says, “You have to address the root issues causing problems for the salmon,” such as the dams, fishing, habitat loss and irrigation withdrawals. Obviously, if predation were the primary issue in the recovery of salmon, we wouldn’t be seeing the run size fluctuating like this. The run size fluctuates due to oceanic variables to which the animals are exposed.

A companion report from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that removing the sea lions doing the most damage saved some 1,655 salmon.

NOAA Fisheries Service has given authority to the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho to kill up to 85 a year. This was the first year sea lions were killed as well as trapped and sent to aquariums.

The Army Corps report also found that a few sea lions were hanging around the dam in the fall for the first time, raising concerns they could start feeding on fall and winter salmon runs.

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