Eating Salmon Is a Crime – But Only If You’re a Sea Lion

By on April 21, 2016 with 8 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

It should not be a capital crime to engage in an essential feeding behavior. Yet in the mixed-up ideologies of old-school proponents of predator control and fisheries management, that’s just what happens. As a result, California sea lions in Oregon and Washington face the prospect of being killed because they eat fish. Mind you, both the salmon and the sea lions are native, and their predator-prey relationship has endured for thousands of years.

In recent years, the federal government granted lethal take permits to Oregon and Washington with the intention of cutting down on sea lions killing native prey. Now that the authorization is set to expire, the states are pleading with the federal government to renew the permits to allow them to kill more sea lions over the next five years.

The sea lions contribute only a small percentage of the total take of chinook salmon. We humans are responsible for a far larger share of the mortality. Salmon return each spring to spawn in the tributaries of the Columbia River, and the greatest cause of their deaths is the series of dams and blocked passages that threaten their ability to travel and reproduce. In 2015, a court ordered the states to fix hundreds of barriers built under state roads and highways that block access for migrating salmon, yet action to comply with that decree has been slow and grudging. What’s more, fishermen are allowed to catch and kill up to 17 percent of the salmon in the spring run. Many of the fish that die are from endangered stocks.

Yet another human-caused factor contributing to the salmon’s troubles are non-native bass and walleye, intentionally dumped in the river to create more recreational opportunities for sport fishermen. A report by government scientists found that these non-native fish eat up to two million young salmon each year and compete with the adults for spawning habitat.

Despite all these threats, the size of the spring salmon run is not declining. A 2015 government report to Congress found the spring spawning salmon runs are “stable.” As a matter of fact, far from being decimated by sea lions, the spring run size in 2015 was the third highest since 2001.

The HSUS has been a big player in this controversy for years. In 2008, we filed a lawsuit to block plans by the federal government to kill or capture up to 425 sea lions near the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which divides Oregon and Washington. After a lengthy court battle, in 2010, a federal appellate court rejected the sea lion removal plan, specifically noting that salmon mortality from controllable human activities (including commercial and recreational fishing, and operation of hydropower facilities) far exceeds sea lion predation rates.  A 2011 authorization to kill or capture sea lions on the Columbia River was also rejected as a result of a second HSUS lawsuit. These lawsuits prevented dozens, if not hundreds, of sea lions from being killed. In 2012, the states were finally authorized to kill up to 92 sea lions each year. Already this year, they have killed 32 sea lions at the Bonneville Dam.

Please write to the National Marine Fisheries Service and ask the agency to deny the permit allowing Oregon and Washington to continue the killing. These states need to focus on active management of the human factors that are the greatest threats to salmon. It’s wrong, and wrong-headed, to scapegoat a native species for just doing what comes naturally.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. David Bernazani says:

    I have long avoided eating salmon–even before I became vegan– because of this reason. How could anyone enjoy eating a fish knowing that innocent sea mammals were killed just for trying to do the same thing?
    And they need them more than I do! We have a huge variety of choices in our diets; sea lions don’t. Let’s leave them AND the salmon alone, and go with cruelty-free foods that don’t require hired men with guns shooting our beloved marine wildlife in some misguided belief that they are “competition”.

  2. Catherine Lewis says:

    Conservation status:
    California sea lions are managed under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972. They are not, however, designated as a “depleted” population under the MMPA, nor are they listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). While the MMPA was intended to protect marine mammals from human interference, the law was amended in 1994 to provide a process for states to lethally remove individual California sea lions that threaten recovery of salmon and steelhead stocks listed for protection under the ESA. This provision does not apply to Steller sea lions, which are listed as “threatened” under the ESA.
    Upper Columbia River spring Chinook
    Historic population: About 30,000 in 1900.
    2005 population: Close to 2,000.
    Wild component: About 100 fish.
    Listed: Endangered in 1999.
    Notes: At least six former populations from this species are now extinct. Other than Snake River sockeye, which are very close to extinction, this is the most endangered stock in the basin.

    Sure Humans may have caused the beginning of the salmon demise, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can to make sure the species survives, and the California Sea Lions are taking over Bonneville.

    • Sharon Young, Marine Issues Field Director The HSUS says:

      The previous writer is mistaken regarding the size of the upper Columbia River spring Chinook run, which she asserts to be a hundred wild run fish. See Table 8 on page 68 of the 2016” Stock Status and Fisheries For spring Chinook, Summer Chinook, Sockeye, Steelhead, and Other Species, and Miscellaneous Regulations,” issued annually by Fish and Wildlife Departments of the states of Washington and Oregon. ( ) The wild component of the Upper Columbia spring run is said to contain over 7,000 fish with an additional 37,000 of these ESA-listed Upper Columbia spring run chinook being of hatchery origin. We also wish to add that, although the writer states that Steller sea lions are listed as threatened, they were removed from the ESA in 2013. Killing sea lions is not a solution. Over 85% of the sea lions seen at the Dam this past year were said by the government to have been new to the Dam and individuals stay for only a few days. Because there is a fluid population movement and sea lions come and go—it is not a situation wherein a few “problem-animals” can be removed and end the predation. Their lives are wasted. Killing individual sea lions cannot address the very real and far greater problems facing the salmon from blocked stream passages, from competition with (and predation by) hatchery fish and predation by introduced non-native bass and walleye that eat young salmon and yet are maintained in the river to benefit the sport fishery. Additionally, a far greater number of fish in the spring run are removed by commercial, recreational and tribal fisheries.

    • anon says:

      you must not like math very well .

  3. Sherron Bull says:

    Even if the poster was not in error in her statements, if there is really a concern about the salmon then they should address the real problem — which is humans and their activity, not the sea lions. Shall we start killing every animal as a scapegoat for not doing what we should be doing, which is not deplete our natural resources? Humans are obviously (as usual) the culprits here. Remove the damns & barriers to the salmon migration, as was ordered. Control the introduced fish species which predate the salmon young. Restrict the human fishers if they are adversely affecting the populations, as they take nearly 4 times the amount of salmon as the sea lions. Humans do not need to eat salmon to survive; the sea lions do.

    • Derek says:

      Sherron, the article It did not say remove the dam.

      “ In 2015, a court ordered the states to FIX [ emphasis added] hundreds of barriers built under state roads and highways that block access for migrating salmon, yet action to comply with that decree has been slow and grudging…”

      So start holding your State Representatives accountable for continuing to be a part of the problem.

  4. Doris Muller says:

    This vicious nonsense is standard corporatocracy behavior and it supports the human propensity for me-ism. The added fact that government supports profit-driven serial killing with my tax dollars makes me mad!

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