The Price of Fishing Without a License

Since 2008, 40 California sea lions have been removed from the waters of the great Columbia River for the crime of fishing without a license.  Ten of these intelligent and social marine mammals are condemned to live out their days eating dead fish and performing tricks at captive facilities across the United States.  The rest are dead.  Five died following harassment and capture by state workers and 25 were killed by lethal injection.  Per authorizations granted to the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, by the National Marine Fisheries Service, up to 92 more sea lions can be killed annually between now and June 2016.  The animals on the states’ hit lists face branding, hazing, trapping and execution for eating endangered salmon.

Branding - the state-funded torture of federally-protected California sea lions begins on a dock near the mouth of the Columbia River at Oregon’s Port of Astoria.  Department of Fish and Wildlife workers lure unsuspecting California sea lions into claw-like metal traps.  The eared seals are measured, tagged with multiple devises and then their flesh is seared by four red hot branding irons.  Sea Shepherd Dam Guardians have witnessed this inhumane act firsthand.  They have smelled the acrid smell of burning flesh, they have seen smoke wafting through the air, and have heard the agonizing screams of sea lions crying out in pain as they endure this misery.

Newly Branded & Tagged Sea Lion at the Port of Astoria, May 2012Newly Branded & Tagged Sea Lion at the Port of Astoria,
May 2012
Photo: Kimber Hamilton / Sea Shepherd

Hazing - The beleaguered sea lions are on the receiving end of an arsenal of hazing devices including underwater seal bombs or waterproof pyrotechnics that are not unlike M80 firecrackers and exploding long-range crackershell projectiles shot from12-gauge shotguns.  The crackershells blow up like fireworks and make a very loud noise, scaring sea lions, pets and people in the immediate area.

Federal workers at the Bonneville Dam armed with shotguns to haze sea lions, May 2012Federal workers at the Bonneville Dam armed with shotguns to haze sea lions, May 2012
Photo: Marty Miller / Sea Shepherd

Trapping - Sea lions haul out to get some rest from the strong river current.  However,

landing on this death trap can cost them their lives.  The traps operate via use of a wireless digital signal sent to a receiver.  When the signal is received, the doors drop, trapping the sea lions in the metal cages.  If the sea lions are on the “hit list” they can be killed by lethal injection or shotgun.

A sea lion swims dangerously close to the death traps on the Bonneville Dam, May 2012A sea lion swims dangerously close to the death traps on the Bonneville Dam, May 2012
Photo: Marty Miller / Sea Shepherd

Killed - Per the letters of authorization from the federal government to the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, California sea lions who meet the following criteria are subject to lethal removal from the dam:

  1. Have been observed eating salmonids at Bonneville Dam, in the "observation area" below the dam, in the fish ladders, or above the dam, between January 1 and May 31 of any year;
  2. Have been observed at Bonneville Dam on a total of any 5 days (consecutive days, days within a single season, or days over multiple years) between January 1 and May 31 of any year; and
  3. Are sighted at Bonneville Dam after they have been subjected to active non lethal deterrence.

The sea lions may be killed by lethal injection or shot by high powered rifle.  Their bodies are to be disposed of in accordance with applicable law.

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