Commentary by Sandy McElhaney, Onshore Volunteer, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

California sea lion painfully branded by government workersCalifornia sea lion painfully branded by government workers
Photo: Erwin Vermeulen/Sea Shepherd
The California sea lions at the center of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Dam Guardian program will have their day in court in Portland, Oregon on Friday, October 19.  On this date, lawyers for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) will present oral arguments in a case against the Secretary of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  HSUS seeks to overturn a permit that was issued to allow the lethal removal of California sea lions at the Bonneville Dam.

In May, a federal judge denied a motion from HSUS for a preliminary injunction to halt the killing of these sea lions on the Bonneville Dam in 2012. The animals are charged with consuming salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.  While fishermen are allowed to catch up to 17 percent of the prized fish, HSUS maintains that the California sea lions take only about 1 percent of the salmon on the Columbia River.

According to a May 2012 document from NMFS to the Directors of the Oregon and Washington Departments of Wildlife, 39 California sea lions deemed as “predators” of endangered salmon have been killed since 2008 and 11 have been taken into captivity.  This figure does not include California sea lion C021, who was captured on a floating trap in Astoria and killed on August 30, 2012.

Any sea lion that has been observed eating even a single salmon is subject to being added to a “hit list” that can lead to the animal being killed.  NMFS has authorized the Oregon and Washington state sea lion killers to shoot or euthanize any California sea lions who match the following description:

  • 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;
  • 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
  • are sighted at Bonneville Dam after they have been subjected to active non-lethal deterrence.

Bonneville Dam on the Columbia RiverBonneville Dam on the Columbia River
Photo: Erwin Vermeulen/Sea Shepherd

Who are the real predators here?  They may be mammals, but they certainly aren’t marine mammals!

On the Columbia River, a partnership between state and federal officials, and the commercial fishing industry spells certain death for sea lions who come between commercial, tribal, and recreational fishermen and “their” fish.  While State wildlife officials may be the ones who sear the flesh of sea lions with burning hot brands, pummel them with rubber bullets, and ultimately administer the fatal injection, these heinous acts have the stamp of approval of the federal government and are championed by many fishermen up and down the river.

Fishing is a huge industry in the Pacific Northwest.  A May 30, 2012, news release from the Oregon Department of Agriculture reports a harvest value exceeding $145 million for commercial seafood and fishing in 2011.  This was the single largest take in 23 years.  Per the report, salmon accounted for 2.4 million of the 285 million pounds of fish and shellfish landed by commercial fisheries in 2011.  This is just commercial fishing.  Recreational and tribal fishermen get their share, too.  A recent Columbia River regional fishing report in The Seattle Times documented 1,800 salmon boats on the lower Columbia over the Labor Day holiday weekend.  In just the first 3 days of September, The Times recorded “1,099 salmonid anglers (including 342 boats) with 279 adult and 24 jack fall Chinook, 12 steelhead, and 6 adult Coho. 278 (99%) of the adult Chinook, 10 (83%) of the steelhead, and 2 (33%) of the adult Coho were kept.” Clearly, killing sea lions, who kill far fewer fish than fisheries, is not about saving fish, but rather it is about eliminating the competition.

By way of comparison, a report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that salmon predation by California sea lions reached an all time low of 1,067 (.6% of the total run) from January to June 2012.  Consumption of endangered salmon and not-endangered sturgeon by federally protected Steller sea lions appears to be on the rise (.7% of the total run).  As such, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska have submitted a request to NOAA to remove Steller sea lions from the Endangered Species List.  Should that proposal move forward, it is just a matter of time before the Bonneville Dam sea lion killers add this species to their “to do” list.

In March 2012, Sea Shepherd volunteer and crewmember Erwin Vermeulen visited the Bonneville Dam.  On hearing of this latest proposed attack on Steller sea lions, the veteran Cove Guardian commented:

“Even though the estimated amount of salmon killed by sea lions is the lowest since extensive observation started and dwarfs next to the numbers taken by fisherman or are killed by the dam itself, the immoral governments of Washington and Oregon are targeting a second threatened species of sea lion for senseless slaughter.  It is unacceptable that again and again in the USA and other parts of the world, animals are blamed for human-induced destruction and depletion and then subjected to 'managing' - the fashionable word for extermination."

Sea Shepherd fully supports the Humane Society’s efforts in court.  We will continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds.  In the event that the sea lion killers return to the Bonneville Dam in 2013, so will we.

Sea lion traps near the Bonneville Dam on the Colombia RiverSea lion traps near the Bonneville Dam on the Colombia River
Photo: Sea Shepherd

 

Sea Shepherd
Divina Guadalupe Beaked Whale Research Project
Divina Guadalupe Beaked Whale Research Project
#Breaking #SeaShepherd helps scientists learn more about #rare Beaked whales! Did you know that Cuvier's Beaked whales hold the record for the deepest mammalian dive? Watch the video to learn more about these elusive creatures. With #science we can help protect these beautiful animals from seismic b...
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is returning to Mexico’s Gulf of California for Operation Milagro III to save the near extinct vaquita marina porpoise and the endangered totoaba bass. The M/V Farley Mowat is back on active duty with the M/V Sam Simon joining the Milagro campaign for the first ti...
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
The Farley Mowat Sea Shepherd crew is called out to investigate a dead Brydes whale in the Gulf of California on November 5th, 2016 while patrolling the vaquita refuge. To help the Sea Shepherd crew to continue its work in the Sea of Cortez, including protecting the near-extinct vaquita marina porpo...
Entanglement in the South
Entanglement in the South
Operation Guardian Angel - In and around Bahia de Los Angeles, in the Gulf of California, countless marine species are entrapped in nets with little or no hope of rescue. Rosalia Tellez works for CONANP, a department of the Mexican government that acts as park rangers to enforce laws and assist in ...
Good and Bad Days
Good and Bad Days
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers over the course of two days. The first day Sea Shepherd locates and removes a long line from the sea; fortunately no animals were caught in the net. However, the next day volunteers find a sea lion that has been caught and died in a fisherman's net.
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Sea Shepherd campaign Operation Virus Hunter saw the vessel RV Martin Sheen under the leadership of Alexandra Morton, head up the coast of British Columbia Canada to expose open pen Atlantic salmon farms and the impact they are having on wild Pacific salmon and the the surrounding eco-systems.
Illegal Totoaba Nets
Illegal Totoaba Nets
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers through the process of locating, retrieving and disposing of illegal nets in the Gulf of California.
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
August 12th 2016: Early Thursday morning the R/V Martin Sheen assisted Melissa Willie, a band councilor of the Musgamagw Dza’wada’enuxw nation, in hand delivering a letter to three farms expressing the nations disapproval of the industry. Sea Shepherd crew alongside independent biologist Alexand...
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
Ross McCall travels to the Faroe Islands to explore the truths behind the centuries old tradition of the brutal Pilot Whale drives.
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Sea Shepherd Chairman of the Board, actor/activist Pamela Anderson, cautions viewers about the dangers of eating farmed salmon.
Why Just One?  Indiegogo Video
Why Just One? Indiegogo Video
Support Sea Shepherd's documentary by sharing and backing our Indiegogo campaign here: http://bit.ly/1OfvER6
Milagro Summary - English
Milagro Summary - English
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Operation Milagro II has come to an end. Milagro is its campaign to fight the looming extinction of the vaquita porpoise, the most endangered marine mammal in the world. With an estimate of less than 100 surviving vaquita, Sea Shepherd ships the R/V Martin Sheen...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Watch the crew of the Farley Mowat capture footage of illegal fishing activity with a night vision drone and pull up a totoaba net in the dead of night. This is the final vlog of Operation Milagro II!
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project is dedicated to collect samples from whales in the Gulf of California to measure levels of toxins in whales in order to determine the levels of toxins in the Gulf of California itself. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Never before seen footage. Sea Shepherd catches critically endangered totoaba poacher in the act. The Sea Shepherd crew filmed these totoaba poachers as they were checking one of their illegal nets in the protected vaquita habitat. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the wor...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Watch‬ the routine of our crew doing valuable work in the ‪Sea of Cortez‬. We have been very effective at removing illegal fishing gear from the ‪‎vaquita‬ porpoise's habitat. So much so, that now, most of the time we remove nets and lines that are mostly empty, our favorite thing to do....
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
The Sea Shepherd crew has found 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks in the month of march of 2016. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org/milagro2
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
While patrolling the waters of the upper Gulf of California the Sea Shepherd crew found a dead vaquita porpoise. The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the whole world. The crew also found a Great White Shark caught in an illegal gillnet.
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
This week, the crew of ‪Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ships The M/V Farley Mowat and The RV Martin Sheen find and retrieve an illegal totoaba bass long line from the critically endangered ‪vaquita porpoise habitat. The totoaba fish is also critically endangered. Watch all episodes at: http...
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd crew rescued a whale entangled in an illegal totoaba gillnet in the Gulf of California. Sea Shepherd currently has two vessels in Mexico's Gulf of California on OPERATION MILAGRO. Our goal is to save the vaquita porpoises, the most endangered marine mammal. The vaquita are caught as a r...
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
You might know Gregg Lowe from X-Men: Days of Future Past, but now watch him explain Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro and understand why we must save the #VaquitaMarina - The most endangered cetacean in the world. Help us save the vaquita at: http://seashepherd.org/milagro2/donate-now/vaquita-appeal...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 11 - Big Fish
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 11 - Big Fish
This week the crew of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ships The Farley Mowat and The Martin Sheen find and retrieve an illegal totoaba bass net from the critically endangered vaquita marina's habitat Watch all episodes at: http://www.seashepherd.org/milagro2/multimedia/videos.html ‪#‎OpMilag...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 10 - Light up the Dark
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 10 - Light up the Dark
Actor Gregg Lowe crews with Sea Shepherd to help us protect the vaquita. The M/V Farley Mowat lights up the vaquita refuge and deters poacher from laying deadly nets in the vaquita marina's habitat. Watch all episodes at: http://seashepherd.org/milagro2/multimedia
Sea Shepherd Wildlife - False Killer Whales
Sea Shepherd Wildlife - False Killer Whales
The first video of our new series "Sea Shepherd Wildlife". This episode is about one of the lesser know large dolphins - The False Killer Whales. Learn more about these beautiful creatures with the Sea Shepherd crew. Share it with your friends. Video by Carolina A. Castro Narration by Nicole D'Entr...
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat.