Legislation Facilitates Killing of Problem Sea Lions

A House bill just passed would make it easier for officials to kill problem sea lions that are feasting on salmon concentrated in small areas prior to spawning.

June 21, 2012
sea lions

sea lions

Photo with permission from the U.S. Corps of Engineers

While sportsmen are known to wring hands and gnash teeth over the Endangered Species Act (ESA), guess what? Sometimes we love it.

Those who love fishing for Pacific salmon (guilty as charged) have reason to high-five the passage of House Bill 3069 that passed yesterday. It would allow fishery managers to kill California sea lions preying on salmon.

Hold on, there! Those who don’t get it (and there are so many) will cry foul. After all, talk about arrogance! Who are we to deprive sea lions their natural food in their home waters — where they live and we are but visitors.


True enough without context. But the context is this reality: We have loused up the natural order of things, and now we must find ways to compensate.

That is, by virtue of salmon ladders and other salmon-congregating devices in the lower Columbia River between Oregon and Washington (and elsewhere), salmon become artificially packed into small areas. Sea lions — not known to worry about too much rich salmon snacks making their hips look big — feast. And feast.

Anglers have seen this carnage go on for years. But of course pinnipeds are protected thanks to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.


But maybe not. It ain’t yet head-for-hills time among these ubiquitous marine predators in the Northwest, but that time could come.

Of course this legislation, sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and passed as part of a package of 14 natural resource bills, has to make it through the Senate. And do you think there might be lawsuits? No doubt the Humane Society is already going into full-litigation mode.

Well, the Humane Society is always in full-litigation mode, I suspect. Its ongoing lawsuits have already stymied simply relocating problem sea lions — not even harming them — as had been hoped, years ago.


In the past, by the way, such relocations have proved pointless. From hundreds of miles away, the same sea lions have been shown to do what anyone with half a brain would do: head right back to the gravy train. Why bust your butt trying to track down salmon one by one along the coast when you can kick back and pick ‘em off as you please in front of a fish ladder?

For some visuals on this, check out the video below.

Also, keep in mind that sea lions have few predators; white sharks, a primary natural control, remain scarce. So Mother Nature needs a little help thinning the ranks.


Some of the salmon that make up this chow line are endangered or threatened wild-run fish, hence the ESA connection.

None of this is to suggest that I love the idea of plugging these critters. Take away my dog’s ears and give it flippers and, well … not much difference. And Lord knows, there are many other, bigger problems facing salmon managers.

But I do think the option of capping some of the better-known nuisance gluttons should be a tool in the arsenal of fishery managers.

I’d love to read your thoughts.


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