Troubled Waters for Sea Lions

Last week, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act was marked up and agreed to by the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill, HR 3069, introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, seeks to authorize the Secretary of Commerce to issue annual permits to the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho as well as to five tribal groups to lethally take sea lions in hopes of protecting salmon that are listed under the ESA as well as any non-listed fish thought to be negatively impacted by sea lions. This bill is not only ineffectual, but it flies in the face of basic animal welfare and wildlife conservation principles.

Firstly, the bill does not address the problem, and instead only offers a death sentence for members a sociable and intelligent species. Of the current 2011 population of 205,000 salmonids, sea lions are responsible for eating 2,870—only 1.4% of the total population: A natural and sustainable predator off-take from the population, that helps keep the species healthy and the ecosystem in-check.  Additionally, the annual amount of fish that sea lions consume is a mere 10% of what fishermen are court-approved to take every year.  So not only are sea lions unnecessarily killed for doing what they naturally do -- eating fish -- but endangered salmon species are not protected from the man-made factors that are truly threatening them--pesticides, habitat loss and degradation, over harvest, competition with both hatchery fish and nonnative introduced fish and hydroelectric development. Having stronger legislation on pesticides, over-harvesting and environmental preservation instead of persecuting sea lions will make legitimate strides in protecting the species.

Secondly, the possible conservation impacts of the law on the local sea lion population are deeply concerning.  Under the new bill, one permit would allow the applicant (be it state or tribal group) to kill up to 10 sea lions in a single year. Under HR 3069, up to 85 sea lions could be killed in a year; this number exceeds the total number of sea lions observed at the Bonneville Dam in 2011.

The idea of killing sea lions for eating fish is both absurd and useless. In the case of the disappearing salmonids, over exploitation and human-caused habitat loss and degradation are the real culprits; the sea lions are just the ones being framed for the crime.

-- JF

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