Sea Lions Aren’t the Dam Problem on the Columbia River!
Commentary by Sandy McElhaney
On April 3, 2012, Oregon and Washington began an annual cull of California sea lions on the Columbia River. State workers brand the marine mammals with searing hot irons, shoot them with rubber bullets, and kill them by lethal injection -- all for the crime of eating “endangered” salmon. As horrific as these acts are, they are authorized and supported by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Since the cull began in 2008, at least 39 sea lions have been killed and 11 are in captivity.
Salmon fishing is big business on the Columbia River. Sea lions are tortured and killed for eating little more than 1 percent of the annual salmon run. Conversely, commercial, tribal, and recreational fishermen are encouraged to catch about 17 percent of the endangered fish. Anglers have long complained that sea lions compete with them for salmon. Their solution is to get rid of the sea lions. They have full backing by local politicians and the federal government.
The depletion of the salmon run on the Columbia River can be traced to the construction of the behemoth Bonneville Lock and Dam. Since 1938, the dam has provided electrical power while destroying the natural migration path of salmon. When you add in overfishing and the introduction of non-native species of fish that prey on salmon, it is easy enough to see that man is the real predator on the Columbia - NOT the sea lions.
Recognizing that the real problem on the Columbia River has nothing to do with sea lions, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society began its Dam Guardian program in April. Volunteer Dam Guardians have been on the banks of the Columbia near the Bonneville Dam and also at the Port of Astoria. We have witnessed acts of cruelty that would be considered criminal offenses anywhere in the United States but here. We have observed animals being kicked and poked with sticks. We have repeatedly seen smoke wafting from a cage as a hot iron is pressed into the flesh of previously unblemished animals. These sea lions are further violated with tracking devices and tags that pierce their flippers. Tragically, we have seen sea lions trapped in cages and dragged to a boathouse where death awaits.
Recently Scott West, Sea Shepherd’s Dam Guardian campaign leader, accompanied San Francisco school teacher Angela Casey to the office of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber to deliver hundreds of notes and drawings from elementary school children asking for an end to the cull. The governor was not available to meet. He has granted clemency to a convicted murderer, but ignores the pleas of concerned children and adults who simply want to save marine mammals from a senseless death.
The Humane Society of the United States is in court fighting to end this ridiculous seal cull. Until then, Sea Shepherd will be on the shores of the Columbia watching and reporting to the world. Will you join us? Sea lions are not the problem on the Columbia. The problem is the damn dam and those who think humans should have exclusive fishing rights to salmon.
Please contact the Oregon and Washington Governors and ask them to stop killing sea lions: