A protected species is a menace to several endangered and threatened species, and the human species struggles to construct an effective approach. A partial — and controversial — solution again is coming before Congress; even with the emotional issues it elicits, the proposal is one that is worth implementing.
Decades of efforts to increase salmon runs on the Columbia River have been thwarted by rising populations of California sea lions, especially near dams where the fish congregate to ascend ladders that help them through the concrete barriers. One adult sea lion can eat between 15 and 30 pounds of fish daily, and the office of 4th District U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings says up to 1,000 sea lions have been found at one time in a 205-mile stretch of the Lower Columbia.
Sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the law has achieved its purpose. In the 40 years since Congress passed the act, the West Coast sea lion population has jumped from about 30,000 to more than 300,000.
Salmon populations in the Columbia and Snake rivers haven’t had the same success since their listing under the Endangered Species Act starting in the early 1990s. Some progress has been made thanks to habitat improvements, better water management and reduced pollution, but management officials, tribes and anglers would like to see higher numbers. In the past decade, the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office reports slightly increasing populations of some Columbia/Snake steelhead and salmon runs, with no change or a slight decrease in others.
Attention long has focused on how to manage sea lions. In 2008, fish management officials started trapping and relocating the aquatic mammals, and that same year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave states the authority to kill sea lions, though under cumbersome rules. Sea lions must be seen eating fish, then captured, marked, released and then recaptured after eating more fish before they can be euthanized. More....