Court says fisheries can’t punish sea lions when dams and fishermen kill more salmon

A federal appeals court told Oregon, Washington and federal fishing agencies to stop killing sea lions for eating endangered Pacific salmon and steelhead species. The gist of the ruling it isn’t fair for NOAA to just ignore the amount of salmon killed by dams and fishermen, then go nuclear on sea lions, who kill far less of the migratory fish.

The sea lions, which fish in increasing numbers around the Bonneville Dam, kill 3.6 percent to 12.6 percent of the salmon. The sea lions are crafty and know to lurk around the ladders set up to mitigate the impact of the dam on the salmon.

Yet, as Tim Hull of the Courthouse News Service points out, the National Marine Fisheries Service said that the dam and anglers taking between 5.5 and 17 percent of salmon would result in “minimal adverse effects on listed salmonid [populations] in the Columbia River Basin.” The Humane Society of the United States and the Wild Fish Conservancy have been arguing for years that was ridiculous.

The fisheries service and the states had won a lower court ruling to officially ignore the much bigger takes by the groups it likes, fishermen and power companies. Judge Raymond Fisher of the 9th Circuit wrote: “the agency’s seemingly inconsistent approach to, on the one hand, fishery and hydropower activities, which are deemed not to be significant obstacles to the recovery of listed salmonid populations, and, on the other hand, sea lion predation, which is deemed to be a significant barrier to salmonid recovery, has occupied the center of this controversy from the start.”

Sea lions started showing up in big numbers in 2002. The fisheries service gave the okay to kill 85 sea lions a year in 2008 and 40 have been captured and killed by lethal injection since then. Sea lions are normally protected as marine mammals, but the agency gave special permission in this case. The California Sea Lion population has been increasing ever since hunting stopped.

The fishermen have already had their take cut way back. The real issue is the dams. According to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, dams in the region are responsible for 75-90% of human-related salmon kills and salmon runs have declined by 90%. They would be much lower if fisheries services weren’t breeding salmon and injecting them into the eco-system; 75% of the fish are hatchery raised.

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