By Sharon Young
California sea lions are marked for death simply for eating salmon in the Columbia River. Now that Steller sea lions have been delisted from the Endangered Species Act, The Daily Astorian has suggested in an editorial that the government start killing them to protect sturgeon (Control Steller sea lions to protect sturgeon, Oct. 21).
The killing of California sea lions will happen despite the fact that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently estimated that their predation has declined and is barely more than 1 percent of the spring salmon run up the Columbia River. The government deems this predation “significant,” yet it has declared that the take of salmon by fishermen – authorized at up to 17 percent of the spring run – is an insignificant impact.
Each year the National Marine Fisheries Service also reports to Congress that the spring salmon runs affected by predation are all stable or increasing. We are not facing a crisis for which the death penalty is warranted.
Although The Astorian suggests killing those that specifically target white sturgeon, it’s not that simple. There is not a gang that has taken over and can easily be displaced. New animals come and go from the dam each season and differ from year to year. Additionally, the recent Army Corps annual report on predation stated that in 2013, sturgeon predation by Steller sea lions dropped to a level of only half to one-quarter of that in 2012.
Nothing about the facts we know suggests that killing sea lions of either species will hasten the recovery of salmon or sturgeon.
Getting revenge on an animal eating a fish that is its natural prey but that we want to catch is not a solution if the desire is to recover fish. Recovery is hastened only when we focus on addressing the major obstacles. For salmon, that includes recommendations made repeatedly by blue ribbon panels and largely ignored, including hatchery and harvest reform, improving habitat quality and addressing the problem of the non-native fish that eat and compete with salmon and threaten them at levels greater than all other impacts combined.
Sturgeon are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, a listing that would help address some of the problems facing them and their need for a healthy habitat. More....