Ill-Conceived Columbia River Sea Lion Cull Commences

photo by Bouke Atema
photo by Bouke Atema

On August 14, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a permit to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, as well as several tribal entities, to kill up to 540 California sea lions and 176 Steller sea lions over the next five years within the Columbia River basin. This cull is meant to protect endangered salmon from predation, but any sea lion sighted up the Columbia River and its tributaries is now a target, even if they do not eat any salmon. AWI has opposed this killing program from the outset—like most predator-control programs, it is likely to fail in its objectives. However, a bill was rushed through Congress in 2018 to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow this indiscriminate cull, and AWI has heard that the permit holders started killing sea lions in late 2020. We will monitor the program and hope that we can undo this misguided and inhumane decision in the next Congress. Despite this politically expedient removal of sea lions, salmon will likely continue their downward spiral, because their true threats remain: dams on spawning rivers, habitat degradation, and unsustainable human fisheries that have been restricted but not eliminated.

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