In certain areas of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, it will now be easier to kill sea lions that have migrated north from California, after President Donald Trump signed bipartisan legislation that okays the practice.
The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., makes slight changes to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which lays out prohibitions for killing marine mammals, and institutes a permit process for the lethal taking of sea lions. Permit holders are legally allowed to kill sea lions that are part of a population and/or stock that is not classified as being depleted or at risk.
The signing of the bill by Trump was the culmination of years of work and advocacy to bring attention to the issue. Moses Lake resident Rick Graser, who spent 31 years as a fishing guide, was at the forefront of the fight for a fix and says he is relieved to see it come. But at the same time, he says, it could have come sooner.
“It was a lot of hard work and I’m just thrilled that this thing has gone through. I still make the stance that we are not to the point of killing all of the sea lions, but their numbers need to get back under control.”
The legislation allows for renewable 5-year permits, sets the total number of sea lions to be killed annually at “no more than 10 percent of the annual potential biological removal of the animals”, and requires the “primary euthanasia be limited to chemical methods”, the Times reported.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been keeping statistics on sea-lion predation on salmon/steelhead directly below Bonneville Dam in Washington from January through May each year since 2002. California sea lions have been migrating north from California since the mid-1980s and their numbers have varied over the years, but during the 16-year span almost 4,000 fish have been consumed by the animals each year below the dam.
Still, the new legislation has its critics, who argue the taking of sea lions will not solve the problem of declining salmon populations:
“This bill changes the core protective nature of the Marine Mammal Protection Act by allowing for the indiscriminate killing of sea lions throughout the Columbia River and its tributaries,” Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, said in a statement.