Dozens More Could be Killed in 2014

Commentary By Sandy McElhaney, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The once The once “mighty” Columbia River is now a toxic chemical soup
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Sandy McElhaney
April 2014 was a record-setting month at the Bonneville Dam. On April 30th, 17,972 salmon passed through the Dam’s fish ladders. This was the third-highest single-day fish count at the Dam since 2002. With current projections of a salmon run size of 185,000, state officials are now adding days to the sport fishery season. There is, however, a catch. If you want to sport fish for salmon on the Columbia River, you must be human. If you are a California sea lion caught fishing near the Bonneville Dam, you will be killed.

April 2014 also has the dishonorable distinction of being the deadliest month on record for California sea lions along the Columbia River. On three consecutive Tuesdays, state workers mercilessly killed twelve sea lions because they had the audacity to eat salmon near the Bonneville Dam. The killing spree began on Tuesday, April 15. On that date, six sea lions were executed. One week later, on April 22, state workers lethally injected three more sea lions. On April 29, three more lives were extinguished. Sadly, the month of May began just as ominously as April ended, with another three sea lions killed on the first day of the month, bringing the death toll for the year up to 15 — so far. Authorization from the federal government to the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, allows these states to put to death as many as 92 sea lions annually through 2016, simply for eating salmon near the Bonneville Dam.

The kill notices are posted on the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) website. The first notice of 2014 read simply, “Six California sea lions, on the list for removal, were trapped and euthanized at Bonneville Dam today.” That was it. Just 17 dispassionate words were used to sum up the tragic and senseless end to the lives of six individuals who were once a vital part of the ecosystem of the Columbia River. A mandated report from the state of Oregon to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS is the federal entity that authorized the killings in 2012) further stated that “various biological samples were collected for examination and the remaining materials were disposed of in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.” If the sea lion executioners are still following the same practices used when they killed their first victim (branded by Oregon as C265) in 2009, then the skeletons of these poor animals will be articulated and used for research and their flesh sent off to Darling International Rendering Plant in Tacoma, Washington, where they could eventually become fertilizer.

Five of the sea lions killed on April 15 were among those “championed” by Sea Shepherd supporters in 2013 so they could be remembered by name as unique individuals, instead of being known only by the hideous brands on their backs. Their names and their champions are as follows:

Number Champion Name
C027 Frances Holtman Oceanus
C028 Graziella Garri Proteus
C035 Stephan Oelgardt Thery
U254 Brian Lochlaer Barack Obama
U262 Elke Simmons Ahimsa

RIP U84RIP U84
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Be Bosworth-Cooper
Also killed was U84, who died nameless, but whose image was forever captured on film by Dam Guardian Be Bosworth-Cooper at the Port of Astoria. Several of the now slain animals were branded at the Port in 2013. This charming waterfront town was made famous by the 1985 movie, “The Goonies,” but today it is best known for its ongoing cruelty to sea lions. Tourists and other visitors to the Port are often alarmed to see workers from ODFW “haze” resting sea lions with nowhere to go off of the “goondocks”. Periodically, sea lions are trapped in cages and forcibly branded with hot irons. Sea Shepherd’s Dam Guardians documented this barbaric practice on multiple occasions in 2012 and 2013. Our footage shows state employee Matthew Tennis standing on, kicking and setting sea lions on fire. These findings were shared with NMFS and Sea Shepherd was informed in writing by the agency that Tennis would henceforth be supervised when capturing and “marking” (branding) sea lions.

An update posted to the ODFW website dated Tuesday April 22 reported, “Seven California sea lions were trapped. Three were on the list for removal and were euthanized. Four were branded and released.” The three sea lions killed were those branded with the numbers C020 (“Dewey,” championed by Allison Cabellon), C029 (“Rocky,” championed by Benjamin Bell), and C930 (“Cesare,” championed by Selena Rhodes Scofield). Three more sea lions were reported to have been euthanized on Tuesday, April 29: C033, U267 and U312. On May 1, the state killed sea lions C031, U264 and B409.

Conveniently, the six sea lions killed on April 29 and May 1 were added to the official NOAA-authorized “hit list” on April 28, 2014, along with five others who are now literally marked for death. Sea lion U312 was killed because he was “observed at the dam on 7 days in 2014 with 2 documented salmonids consumed.” News of his death comes as an especially harsh emotional blow to Sea Shepherd’s Dam Guardians, who witnessed and documented his cruel branding by Oregon state workers in Astoria on March 24, 2013.

The ODFW website talks about California sea lion “management” and “restoring the balance between predators and salmon”. The most recent report from the Army Corps of Engineers claims that California sea lions have consumed 222 salmon at the Bonneville Dam since January; meanwhile, The Seattle Times reported that recreational anglers had landed and kept 9,358 Chinook from March 1-April 14. The state's concept of "management" is, at best, draconian; at worst it is a display of total ignorance of the real problems in the Columbia River, and the efforts by real conservationists who care deeply about preserving the river, the salmon and the sea lions.

With our history of defending, conserving and protecting marine wildlife and habitats spanning 37 years, Sea Shepherd knows that the real predators are not the sea lions. The real predators are the people who have desecrated one of our nation’s great and beautiful rivers by flushing it with 92 contaminants which have been found in Columbia River fish, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, furans, arsenic, dieldrin, mercury, and DDE - a breakdown product of DDT. The Oregon Environmental Council has classified the Columbia River as being on “Red Alert,” meaning it has serious water quality problems, including toxins that are dangerous to both human and aquatic health. A 2012 study by the Columbia Riverkeepers found PCB concentrations in fish to be 27,000% above levels considered by the EPA to be safe for unrestricted human consumption. So while ODFW is wasting your taxpayer dollars to brand, haze and kill sea lions, the salmon are still swimming in a cesspool of cancer-causing poisons.

As a cancer survivor, I would encourage anyone I care about to avoid consuming toxic fish from the Columbia, and as a Sea Shepherd Dam Guardian I encourage everyone to call upon the governors of Oregon and Washington to immediately redirect their efforts away from killing sea lions and toward restoring the health of the water - before it’s too late.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber
State Capitol Building
900 Court Street Salem, OR  97301
phone: (503) 378-4582
fax:  (503) 378-6827
Internet: Request Assistance
Facebook: John Kitzhaber
twitter: @govkitz

Washington Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA  98504-0002
phone: (360) 902-4111
fax:  360-753-4110
Internet: Contact Gov. Inslee
Facebook: Governer Inslee
twitter: @govInslee

Our friends at the Humane Society of the United States, who have long championed the Columbia River sea lions in court, have letters for you to send to the governors at this link: Humane Society - Six Sea Lions Killed at Bonneville Dam

Our friends at the Sea Lion Defense Brigade are leading the ground campaign along the Columbia this season. To join them on the ground, please contact: sealiondefensebrigade@gmail.com. The Sea Lion Defense Brigade is asking concerned citizens to contact NOAA and to urge the agency to cancel the states’ authorization to kill sea lions. Up to 77 more sea lions could be killed in 2014. Please contact NOAA using the contact information below and ask them to grant clemency to these marine mammals who simply eat salmon to survive:

Donna Wieting
Director, Office of Protected Resources
NOAA
Phone 301 713-2332
Fax 301 427-2520
Email: donna.wieting@noaa.gov
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring MD 20910

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