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Posted by on October 22, 2006 at 19:37:59:

On 28 September, Republican Doc Hastings and Democrat Brian Baird filed a bill in the House (H.R. 6241, the “Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act”) to expedite the lethal take of sea lions that predate on ESA-protected salmon at the Bonneville Dam. Several dozen sea lions have discovered an easy dinner at the bottom of the Bonneville fish latter, leaving many angry at the pinnipeds for removing listed endangered salmon from the Columbia River.

The Congressmen stated that they will attempt to receive permits for Oregon and Washington wildlife officials in addition to members of the Columbia River Tribes to “lethally remove” a small number of sea lions from the area, limited to no more than 1% of the west coast population estimated at 300,000. They hope to have the Secretary of Commerce make a decision on the permits within 30 days. Dam officials stated they have attempted an array of responses to the sea lions, including shouting and setting off firecrackers, however some of the sea lions cannot be deterred.

Sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA, 1972), which protects and manages marine mammal populations and their products (i.e. hides, furs, etc.). The implementation of the MMPA has been more successful than most conservation minded legislation, largely because the public is no longer allowed to harm or disrupt marine mammals. Therefore, the pinnipeds enjoying salmon in the Columbia River are protected, though the MMPA already allows “lethal take” under some circumstances.

Regardless of the rights of the sea lions to dine on the estimated 3% of the Columbia River salmon, the recent announcement also highlights the inability of many government officials to see the big picture. The decrease in salmon in the Columbia is not due to a few sea lions, but primarily the impact of numerous dams. The bill also waives the MMPA and NEPA process protections and uncritically presumes that the sea lions are a serious problem relative to other problems, such as dams.

A better allocation of time and resources would be to improve the degraded spawning habitats of salmon and to remove the dams along salmon migratory routes. The sea lions are just the next scapegoat in a long line of ineffective short-sighted “solutions” to a large problem of salmon population decline. For more information regarding the sea lion issues see the Associated Press article at www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Killing-Sea-Lions.html. For additional information on the Marine Mammals Protected Act see: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/laws/mmpa.

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