Oregon gets OK to kill sea lions at Willamette Falls

November 15, 2018
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FILE--In this March 14, 2018, a California sea lion that was trapped at Willamette Falls in the lower Willamette River, waits to be released into the Pacific Ocean near Newport, Ore. Oregon officials have now received federal approval to trap and kill California sea lions that eat protected fish at Willamette Falls instead of releasing them into the ocean. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon wildlife managers on Thursday received federal approval to trap and kill California sea lions that eat protected fish.

The National Marine Fisheries Service approved the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s request to trap and euthanize up to 93 animals a year on the lower Willamette River.

With their numbers growing, the sea lions are venturing ever farther inland from the Pacific Ocean, and state officials say they’re intercepting fish on their way to spawning grounds above Willamette Falls south of Portland.

Removing them will help save threatened winter steelhead and spring chinook salmon, state officials said. Analyses show that sea lions ate about one-fourth of the steelhead run last year and about 7 to 9 percent of the spring chinook salmon, officials said.

“The unfortunate reality is that, if we want to prevent extinction of the steelhead and Chinook, we will have to lethally remove sea lions at this location,” Shaun Clements, a policy analyst for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a statement.

Opponents say killing the sea lions won’t solve the problem of declining salmon, which also face other problems such as habitat loss and dams, and have called the move unethical.

The Humane Society of the United States opposed the state’s request and questioned whether killing sea lions would boost fish runs.

California sea lions’ numbers dropped dramatically but have rebounded from 30,000 in the late 1960s to about 300,000 in 2016 under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. Killing California sea lions requires special authorization under that law.

Clements said the state has tried using non-lethal methods for several years to keep California sea lions away but those efforts didn’t work. There are currently a dozen at Willamette Falls and many have been there for years, he added. Some 50 to 100 sea lions are seen at the falls at some point in the year.

Under the federal authorization, wildlife officials can only remove individually identified sea lions that have been observed between Willamette Falls and the mouth of the Clackamas River for two days, or are seen eating salmon or steelhead. The marine mammals would be captured and transferred to a facility where they would be euthanized.

Washington, Idaho and Oregon wildlife managers currently have federal authorization to kill problem sea lions that eat salmon in the Columbia River near Bonneville Dam.

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