Suit filed to halt killing of sea lions in Columbia River

By Joseph B. Frazier
Portland, Oregon (AP) 4-08

The Humane Society of the United States, Wild Fish Conservancy and two citizens have filed suit in U.S. District Court to halt the authorized killing of sea lions at the base of Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River.

The lawsuit, had been filed in federal court in Washington D.C. but it was withdrawn when the fish conservancy group asked to join it.

The National Marine Fisheries services has granted a request by Oregon and Washington to kill up to 85 animals a year over five years to protect endangered or threatened salmon runs.

The Humane Society says federal law allows killing sea lions when it is proved they have a “significant negative impact” on salmon. They called the permit to kill the animals “outrageous and patently illegal.”

The state of Oregon has said it would not begin killing or trapping sea lions until Washington State acts, which will not be until after hearings and a public comment period set to expire April 4.

The order by the National Marine Fisheries Service encourages trapping the animals if possible and relocating them to sea parks, aquariums, or similar facilities.

The lawsuit alleges that the fisheries service is violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act by authorizing the killings without determining whether the predation is having a “significant negative impact on the decline or recovery” of salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The decision, the lawsuit maintains, is in violation of the requirements of the act and should be set aside.

The lawsuit also seeks recovery of attorneys’ fees.

The animals are protected under the 1972 Marine Mammals Protection Act, but an amendment allows some to be killed if permission to do so requested by states is granted.

Those favoring lethal removal, including Columbia River Indian tribes and sport and commercial fishermen, say the sea lions eat up to 4 percent of the spring chinook run each year. Some put the number higher.

The Humane Society and others contend that the sea lions are only one of many pressures on the salmon runs and that factors such as hydroelectric dams, bird predation and environmental deterioration cause worse problems.