U.S. Fisheries Service Kills Sea Lions to Help Salmon Industry

Monday, March 26, 2012
(photo: Terry Costales, bcx.org)
When the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released revised regulations last year to allow the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho to kill sea lions thought to be eating too many salmon, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) decided something fishy was going on. After all, they had succeeded in persuading the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down similar regulations only a few months before. Yet the revised rules actually increased the number of sea lions to be killed from 85 to 92 per year for the next five years.
Sea lions are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which provides a limited exception for those marine mammals that “are having a significant negative impact on the decline or recovery” of salmon, which are also protected by federal law. Salmon fishing is big business in the Washington and Oregon, bringing in revenues of $30 million in 2009, the last year for which figures are available, and supporting many jobs. 
In response, HSUS and WFC filed a lawsuit in March 2012 in federal district court in Washington, DC, asking the court for a temporary injunction to prevent any killings while the case is pending and a permanent injunction striking down the regulation. They argue that the new NMFS rules fail the statutory test, because sea lions are not having a significant impact on salmon stocks. Although sea lions do eat between 3,000 and 12,000 salmon every year, the complaint in the case points out that this is only 0.4% to 4.2% of the 80,000 to 300,000 adult salmon and steelhead that spawn yearly in the Columbia River. In comparison, NMFS authorizes both fishermen and hydroelectric dams to take up to about 17% of adults each, and non-native fish like bass and walleye (hundreds of thousands of which the government intentionally releases each year), kill more than 2 million juvenile salmon. 
Judge James E. Boasberg rendered what might be called a split decision on the request for a temporary injunction. He did not order a complete moratorium as the environmental plaintiffs wanted, nor did he allow the NMFS plan to proceed. Instead, on March 22 the judge ruled that the killings could go on, but only 30 sea lions, not 92, may be killed per year, and they must be killed by lethal injection rather than bullet or other means. Both the plaintiffs and NMFS have vowed to continue the fight.
Since 2008, 28 sea lions have been legally killed and another 10 have been deported to zoos and aquariums.
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
Don't Shoot Sea Lions, Environmentalists Tell USA (by Ryan Abbott, Courthouse News Service)

U.S. Judge Clears Killing of Salmon-Gulping Sea Lions (by Teresa Carson, Reuters) 


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