Dam Guardians

Sea Shepherd’s Sea Lion Defense Campaign on the Columbia River

Up to 368 California sea lions face execution by Oregon and Washington state workers for the crime of eating endangered salmon on the Columbia River near the Bonneville Dam.  The states are authorized to kill 92 of the federally protected pinnipeds annually through June 2016.  The sea lions will be branded with hot irons, hazed with rubber bullets and explosives, and killed by lethal injection or shotgun for eating less than 4% of the salmon at the dam.  All of this mayhem, conducted on the dime of taxpayers, takes place while commercial, sport, and tribal fisheries are allowed to take up to 17% of the same endangered salmon and the dam itself claims approximately 17% of adult salmon.

Sea lions have been documented on the Columbia River since the time of Lewis and Clark.  They are a natural part of the ecosystem; they eat fish to survive.  Although the Marine Mammal Protection Act protects California sea lions in the United States, a 1994 amendment provided for the lethal removal of sea lions as a means of protecting endangered salmon as they pass by the dam.  Sea Shepherd believes this shortsighted policy scapegoats sea lions and fails to address the real threats to salmon including mutilation in the turbines and spillway of the concrete monster Bonneville Dam, predation by non-native fish, degraded spawning habitat, competition with hatchery-raised fish, and overfishing by humans.  Absurd regulations that penalize sea lions with death for sustenance consumption while allowing for hundreds of thousands of endangered salmon to be swallowed up by commercial, recreational and tribal fisheries are an environmental folly.  In short, killing sea lions does not help save endangered salmon.

In 2012, Sea Shepherd established a Dam Guardian Campaign.  Our volunteers are on the Columbia River to save lives, defend biodiversity and protect marine habitats.  We are concerned about the sea lions, the salmon, and the waterways that politicians have failed with their myopic and reckless management plans.  We believe that by our constant vigilance at the Bonneville Dam and in Astoria, we can affect change.  Please take a look at this site and learn about ways YOU can become involved in our efforts.

Facts about sea lions and salmon on the Columbia River

  • The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects sea lions in the United States.
  • Some California Sea Lions have chosen the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River as their feeding grounds.  The dam is located about 40 miles east of Portland, Oregon.
  • Several groups of people in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho want to blame these sea lions for “taking their fish” and have used the sea lion as a scapegoat, even though the amount of salmon caught by these sea lions equals approximately only 1%.
  • On behalf of these groups, the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho petitioned the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to grant them authority to kill the sea lions. This group has lost prior cases in court, but managed to kill sea lions before the rulings took place. A new application was submitted on their behalf on August 18, 2011, once again requesting authority to lethally remove individually identifiable California sea lions seen eating salmon at Bonneville Dam.  On March 15, 2012, NMFS again granted the states’ request, authorizing state agents to kill as many as 92 federally protected California sea lions each year for 5 years – a total of 460 animals.

The following list based on NMFS estimates shows the percentages for salmon takes in the Columbia River:

  • Sea lions consume between 0.4% and 4.2% of the 80,000 to 300,000 salmon that spawn in the Columbia River each year.
  • The dams along the Columbia River take up to 60% of juvenile salmon and up to 17% of adult salmon.
  • Human fishing activity takes approximately 16% of the adult salmon from the river.
  • Non-native, introduced sport-fishing species consume up to 3 million young salmon a year.
  • Birds eat up to 18%
  • Sea lions take roughly 1%
  • In addition, by-catch of Columbia River salmon in open ocean fisheries contributes to the loss of Columbia River salmon.