California sea lion in a trap at the Bonneville DamCalifornia sea lion in a trap at the Bonneville Dam
Photo: Ashley Lenton / Sea Shepherd
On Thursday, June 13, 2013, a House Subcommittee held a hearing on HR 1308, “The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act,” but a closer look at the proposed legislation suggests the real title should be the “Sea Lion Extermination Act of 2013.”

The bill, introduced on March 21, 2013, by Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA), is a death sentence for sea lions on the Columbia River. If enacted, HR 1308 would strip away key existing federal protections for California sea lions, who have long been scapegoated on the Columbia River as predators of endangered salmon.

“As many as one thousand California sea lions have gathered below Bonneville Dam during certain years and consume as much as 20 percent or more of the adult salmon or more that return in the Spring,” Hastings said during opening remarks before the Subcommittee. These numbers fly in the face of findings from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who in their May 9, 2013 status report wrote, “The maximum number of CSL (California sea lions) seen on any one day this year so far is 21. We’ve identified about 60 individual CSL so far, at least 13 being repeat individuals from previous years.”

Sea Shepherd’s Dam Guardians served on the ground at the Bonneville Dam and the Port of Astoria for 78 days earlier this spring. “There was never a salmon feeding frenzy, like the politicians would have the public believe,” commented Dam Guardian Campaign Leader Ashley Lenton, whose crew was present before dawn until at least 4:00 p.m. daily from March 15 to May 31, 2013. During that time, two sea lions were killed for eating salmon; two more were taken into captivity; dozens were branded (at the Port of Astoria and the Bonneville Dam); and 16 were added to the current “hit list” of 100 California sea lions who can be lethally injected for eating so much as one salmon near the Bonneville Dam.

California Sea Lion swimming in the Columbia RiverCalifornia Sea Lion swimming in the Columbia River
Photo: Aaron Hall / Sea Shepherd

HR 1308 would not only exempt any lethal program for sea lions in the Columbia River Basin from National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, it would also eliminate the requirement for notice in the Federal Register, and any opportunity for the public to comment on a proposed permit or to review the results of the program. In 1994, when Congress first considered the possibility of killing sea lions to protect endangered fish, it took steps to assure there would be public oversight and proper review. Under this new bill, the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and several Tribal organizations would be able to apply to the Secretary of Commerce for annually renewable permits to lethally remove sea lions. The Secretary, at his or her sole discretion, would be able to issue permits to authorize the killings.

Testifying before the committee, Guy Norman of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife commented, “HR 1308 would provide the means for the states and Tribes to manage sea lion predation in the inland areas of the lower Columbia and tributaries proactively before the number of animals exhibiting the behavior expand to levels that are problematic and costly to manage.” In other words, the states view HR 1308 as a means to fast track the senseless slaughter of sea lions who are simply eating to survive.

HR 1308 is now pending in the House Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Hastings. Sea Shepherd urges its supporters to ask Members of the Committee to OPPOSE HR 1308. The proposed legislation ignores the fact that several empirically validated factors have a far greater impact on Columbia River salmon runs than sea lions:

Fisheries (sport, commercial and Tribal) take up to 17 percent of the wild salmon run on the Columbia River. In its most recent annual report, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated that California Sea Lions consumed .6 percent of the same wild salmon run in 2012. The government has asserted that the 17 percent predation rate by humans is “minor if at all measurable.”  If that is the case, why are sea lions to be killed for consuming less than 1 percent of the same salmon run? 

The government also concluded that 7 to 16 percent of adult fish are killed by the dams they must navigate and has said that this level does not jeopardize salmon. Far fewer fish are killed by sea lions than by fishermen or dams.

In 2009, an independent blue-ribbon science panel reported to Congress its concerns about the impacts wild fish faced from competition with hatchery-raised fish. The panel recommended reforming hatchery management, yet the federal government admitted in a 2012 report that no changes have been made.

The Columbia River was intentionally stocked with bass, walleye, and other non-native fish to benefit sport fishermen and the states limit what fishermen can catch in order to keep these non-native fish abundant. These fish eat up to 2 million young salmon each year and compete for habitat, yet little has been done to reduce this impact.

The water in the Columbia River is toxic. A 2012 report released by the environmental group Columbia Riverkeepers found levels of arsenic, mercury and PCBs that exceed what the Environmental Protection Agency recommends for safe, unrestricted fish consumption. Step one in any effort to protect salmon and people should be to clean up the river.

Let’s make sure this bill dies in committee! Kill the bill - NOT the sea lions! Contact the Members of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Sea Shepherd Dam GuardiansDam Guardians served on the ground at the Bonneville Dam
and the Port of Astoria for 78 days earlier this spring
Photo: Sea Shepherd

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