U.S. killing sea lions to save endangered fish

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has killed 16 sea lions so far

A plan to kill California sea lions to save an endangered run of fish on a river that cuts through Portland, Oregon, appears to be working just months after wildlife officials began euthanizing the giant marine mammals, biologists said Thursday.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife began killing the sea lions in January after getting permission from federal authorities late last year. They have killed 16 so far, including three on Wednesday, said department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy.

In the same period, 2,400 steelhead fish have reached the upper Willamette River and its tributaries to spawn this spring — the most in three years and double last year’s tally, the agency said.

Less than 30 years ago, the number of steelhead making that journey was at least 15,000 a year but pollution and the construction of dams on key rivers reduced that number dramatically.

Sea lions have been eating an additional 25 per cent of all returning steelhead at that spot in the Willamette River south of Portland, said Shaun Clements, ODFW’s senior policy analyst.

“We’ve definitely been able to reduce predation this year and provide some relief to the fish,” he said. “We’re saving considerable numbers of them.”

READ MORE: Is that Yogi Bear? Couple leaves picnic on B.C. beach as uninvited bear moves in

Clements added that other factors, such as better conditions in the Pacific Ocean, are also contributing to larger numbers of steelhead making it over the falls this year.

After a weeklong lull, state biologists are now killing a second wave of sea lions that have travelled to the base of the falls to munch on another salmonid species, the spring chinook.

The spring chinook run is also listed under the Endangered Species Act and biologists estimate sea lions are eating up to 9% of the returning adults each spring, Clements said. Up to 40 sea lions are preying on the chinook, he said, while only 12 were going after the steelhead.

The adult male sea lions, which weigh nearly 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms) each, have learned that they can loiter under Willamette Falls, a horseshoe-shaped waterfall south of Portland, and snack on the vulnerable steelhead and salmon as the fish power their way upriver to the streams where they hatched.

Steelhead start life as freshwater trout and then travel to sea from inland rivers, grow to adulthood as steelhead in the Pacific Ocean and then return to their natal river to spawn. They can grow to 55 pounds (25 kilograms) and live up to 11 years.

The sea lions breed each summer off Southern California and northern Mexico, then the males cruise up the Pacific Coast to forage. Hunted for their thick fur, the mammals’ numbers dropped dramatically but have rebounded from 30,000 in the late 1960s to about 300,000 today because of the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.

With their numbers growing, the dog-faced sea lions are venturing ever farther inland up the Columbia River and its tributaries in Oregon and Washington. The two states have had a similar program in place for years to kill California sea lions that eat threatened and endangered salmon at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

READ MORE: Dead sea lion discovered on Hornby Island shoreline

The latest permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service says the targeted sea lions must have been observed eating at least one steelhead near Willamette Falls between Nov. 1 and Aug. 15 or have been observed in the same stretch of river on two consecutive days in that period.

Individual sea lions are identified by trained observers who look at brands on their back or tags on their flippers.

The animals are being euthanized by a veterinarian by lethal injection in the same way that dogs and cats are put down, Wright said. Their flesh goes to a rendering plant.

Before a sea lion is killed, the state must find out if there is a zoo or aquarium that wants the animal. If so, Oregon wildlife managers must hold the sea lion for 48 hours before killing it.

———

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Fisheries and oceans minister spends Earth Day in Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Jonathan Wilkinson in riding to support candidate Michelle Corfield

Earth Day in Nanaimo celebrates the Earth and its inhabitants

Plant a tree, pet a wolf, and see grand opening of Georgia Greenway at Nanaimo Earth Day festival

Climate action can’t be a partisan issue, say Greens

Green Party of Canada celebrated Earth Day early in Nanaimo

Editorial: Climate change is a good reason to cast a vote

Different choices around climate action and inaction will be on the ballot in Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Humboldt memorial hockey tournament will make its return in Nanaimo

Fundraising tournament set for Nanaimo North Town Centre parking lot on May 5

Climate action can’t be a partisan issue, say Greens

Green Party of Canada celebrated Earth Day early in Nanaimo

United Way opens grants to help charities tackle social issues

Charities north of the Malahat can apply for grants $2,000 to $20,000

Second earthquake in less than two hours strikes off Vancouver Island

The first earthquake happened at 1:27 p.m., the second at 2:44 p.m.

Man’s body found in popular Cowichan Valley hiking area

Police say death not suspicious after discovery in Stoney Hill area overlooking Saltspring Island

Anti-immigration party is on the ballot in Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Opposing candidate says National Citizens Alliance’s participation ‘highly problematic’

Clippers optimistic as they put finishing touches on cup-hosting bid

Nanaimo’s junior A hockey club hopes to host RBC Cup nationals in 2020-21

PHOTOS: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says ‘I do’ on Earth Day

May and John Kidder got married Monday morning in Victoria

Vancouver Island-based company provides glass alternatives to plastic straws

Enviro Glass Straws now producing more than 60,000 straws each year

Multiple sailing waits as BC Ferries deals with Easter Monday traffic

89 extra sailings had been added to the long weekend schedule

Most Read