Oregon, Washington and tribes again take aim at sea lions in dispute over salmon

The Oregonian

Congress is once again considering giving Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife officials and regional tribes broader authority to kill sea lions below the Bonneville Dam, an effort supporters say is necessary to protect 13 endangered species of salmon and steelhead.

But unlike previous attempts to rein in the marine mammals, which are protected under federal law, the legislation goes beyond killing the dozens that converge each spring on the fish logjam at the Columbia River dam 145 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

The bipartisan team behind the bill — Reps. Jaime Herrera-Beutler, R-Washington, and Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon — want to go much further. They also want to make it easier to kill California sea lions found on the Willamette River and its tributaries, and anywhere on the Columbia River east of Interstate 205.

If the legislation is approved, as many as 920 sea lions could be killed annually, compared with 92 under the current agreement.The bill’s supporters say they don’t envision ever reaching that toll – that would be expensive and a public relations nightmare. The measure, they say, would allow them to move quickly to remove nuisance animals before they engage in a months-long feast on prized spring Chinook salmon, an industry that accounts for hundreds of millions of dollars in business in the Pacific Northwest. In 2016, the states removed and euthanized 59 sea lions, the most in any single year since the program began in 2008 (two additional sea lions were accidentally killed).

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