The federal agency overseeing California sea lions said today that Washington and Oregon can “lethally remove” up to 85 of the salmon eaters a year at and around Bonneville Dam.
That after a lawsuit forced the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to better explain its rationale to a court for previously allowing both states to take out the pinnipeds.
“This is not an easy decision for our agency to make, but a thorough analysis shows that a small number of California sea lions preying on salmon and steelhead are having a significant effect on the ability of the fish stocks to recover,” said William W. Stelle Jr., NOAA-Fisheries regional director, in a press release. “Today’s authorization allows state fisheries and natural resource agencies to carefully remove California sea lions to reduce their effect on vulnerable fish species.”
A number of Chinook, summer steelhead and other salmonid stocks in the Columbia Basin are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. California sea lions are also protected by the Marine Mammal Act, but the overall population “is considered healthy and stable, and estimated to be a robust 238,000.”
They have been chowing down on fish in the Lower Columbia in increasing numbers over the past decade. Last year, they ate an estimated 5,000 salmon and steelhead — and that number is considered a low figure.
To get a better grasp of how many they do eat, scientists are currently running a study with spring Chinook to see how many make it from where they’re PIT-tagged in the lower river to Bonneville Dam.
That said, NOAA says predation may be down this year due to a late start to the Chinook run and perhaps because the sea lions have found something else to eat.
“What is worrisome this year is that sea lion predation likely occurred disproportionately on early arriving spring Chinook, which can lead to significant population effects in coming years,” said NOAA.
While the permit authorizes killing more than seven dozen,the feds figure the annual cull will be around 30 sea lions.
A letter of authorization sent to Phil Anderson, director of Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, states that only individual sea lions known to be eating salmonids at or around Bonneville between January 1 and May 31 may be targeted.
WDFW and ODFW can trap them or send in marksmen to shoot them in specific areas around the dam. For longer shots, gunners will need a .240 or better caliber rifle while inside of 25 yards, they can use the same weapon or a 12-gauge loaded with 00 buckshot or slugs.
Only non-lead-based ammunition can be used.
Since 2008, 37 sea lions have been removed; 10 were sent to “public display facilities,” one died during examination and 26 were euthanized.
The giant beasts are also causing problems in the Willamette where an angler bringing in a spring Chinook last weekend was pulled overboard in a tussle over the fish in his net. Fishermen are authorized to try and scare them away with slingshots and paintball guns, and ODFW had been hazing them there but has since run out of funding to do so, a Portland-area TV station reported recently.