In the rivers of the Pacific Northwest, migrating salmon and steelhead trout stage at the base of dams such as the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River to enter fish ladders and other bypasses. At these bottlenecks, sea lions decimate the fish. Making matters worse, many of these salmon and steelhead are listed on the federal Endangered Species list.
Legislation moving through both houses of Congress at press time might help save the salmon and steelhead by making it easier for fisheries managers to kill sea lions. Both versions of the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Preservation Act would allow the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington to apply for permits to trap and euthanize problematic sea lions.
The states already have the ability to kill offending sea lions near the Bonneville Dam, but the current National Marine Fisheries Service permitting process is onerous and time-consuming. The new legislation would streamline the process and allow for the trapping of sea lions well before they reach the staging areas for salmon and steelhead. The bill faces opposition from animal-rights groups that want to refocus the issue on dams and habitat degradation rather than burgeoning sea lion populations.