Washington, Oregon and Idaho officials should kill up to 30 sea lions a year to protect salmon trying to migrate up the Columbia River.
That's the recommendation of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, which drafted it as one of four options for aiding salmon and steelhead that are scooped out of the water and eaten by sea lions below the Bonneville Dam. About one in four fish eaten there is from an endangered stock.
Like a dam on any river, migratory fish congregate at its base, making them easy targets for fishermen of any species. Sea lions, which are an endangered species themselves, have learned to take advantage of this, and no amount of harassment has deterred a few dozen persistent scavengers.
Dams are one of the major reasons that salmon are in such trouble. Besides impeding fish, dams also interrupt the normal flow of nutrients in river ecosystems, which upsets the productivity of the wildlife at the base of the food web.
Removing the dam was not among the options NOAA is considering. The options include:
NOAA recommends option 3. If the public supports NOAA's recommendation, the states would be allowed to kill only those sea lions that return repeatedly to feast on the salmon below the dam, despite being shot at with rubber bullets, firecrackers, noisemakers and other deterrents.
The episode highlights how difficult it can be to restore endangered species in the wild or in this case, a natural system that has been highly altered by human activity. Ecosystems are complex, and wildlife is adaptable. There's no win-win when it comes to sea lions and salmon, short of reversing decades of human development but we, too, are part of the ecosystem for these creatures.
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