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Killing a few sea lions will help salmon
The Back Forty
By Roger Pond

Itís about time, I think. Two Washington congressmen are proposing that someone shoot a few sea lions.

Not a bunch. Just a few. That would be an improvement, at least. Congressmen Doc Hastings and Brian Baird say they will introduce a bill that would allow officials of Washington, Oregon and Native American tribes to quickly obtain permits to kill as many as 10 sea lions that go after salmon below Bonneville Dam.

The theory is that killing a few will have an educational effect on the others, making them less aggressive about grabbing fish from fishermenís lines or chomping up salmon trying to enter fish ladders.

Maybe 10 is enough? One hundred would be better, but we could start with 10.

The bill proposed by Hastings and Baird could allow the states to remove some of the culprits as early as next spring.

The Corps of Engineers has tried everything else: Firecrackers, rubber bullets, profanity. No one is surprised those things donít work.

The number of sea lions below Bonneville during salmon runs has increased from almost none 10 years ago to more than 100 in 2006. Biologists counted about 30 at the dam in 2002.

State and federal biologists estimate these critters kill 3 percent of the spring salmon run at Bonneville Dam. Contrast that with the sports fishermenís allocation of 1.2 percent of that run.

Nobody knows how many salmon sea lions kill in the 200 miles of river before the fish reach Bonneville. Sea lions in the Columbia have learned to eat sturgeon as well, threatening that population, also.

Sports fishermen are only allowed to keep salmon that are fin-clipped, indicating they are hatchery fish. This protects wild and endangered runs. Most people believe sea lions keep whatever they catch.

There will be opposition to killing any sea lions, of course. The same folks who propose removing dams (at a huge cost to agriculture and other industries) will object to killing sea lions. Even the Governor of Oregon wants to remove dams. I wonder how he feels about sea lions?

Sea lions are in no danger of extinction. Oregon officials say there were 50,000 when the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972. They estimate the population at 300,000 now.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act is another example of legislating a biological disaster. Anytime we rule out lethal means in wildlife management we have created a mess.

Sea lions arenít the only problem, of course. We also have cormorants, Caspian terns, and several other salmon predators that are protected and increasing at phenomenal rates.

Then we have pike minnows that prey on salmon smolts. The Bonneville Power Administration pays anglers $4 to $6 each for pike minnows. So there are several predators we canít touch and another with a bounty on its head.

Does this make any sense? Maybe itís time to get rid of some 30-year-old laws that never made any sense to begin with.

This farm news was published in the Nov. 15, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

11/15/2006