PORTLAND — Oregon and Washington have been given permission to resume removing or killing California sea lions at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, a federal agency said Friday.
The decision by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came about six months after a federal appeals court struck down a similar permit aimed at reducing the number of threatened or endangered salmon eaten by the hungry marine mammals.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stopped the practice last year.
NOAA Fisheries officials said they believe the agency has fixed flaws the court pointed out in the original permit issued three years ago.
Under that permit, the two states removed or killed 37 animals.
A report in Portland’s Oregonian says the California sea lion population is healthy, estimated at 238,000, while wild Columbia River spring chinook salmon are listed as endangered.
Mammals’ impact small, challengers say
But Sharon Young of the Humane Society of the United States, which challenged the removal, said Friday the organization still argues the sea lions account for only a small fraction of the salmon killed while fishermen and other causes account for a much larger share.
“This is not a program that is going to do much of anything to help salmon recovery,” Young said.
The HSUS said it would study NOAA’s authorization letter and 42-page decision memo before deciding whether to challenge the practice again.
In Friday’s decision, NOAA Regional Director William Stelle said new data suggest sea lions are eating nearly 13 percent of salmon at the dam in low-return years. That’s higher than earlier Corps of Engineers estimates. Stelle said a researcher last year found sea lion injuries on 29 percent of returning salmon.
Stelle also said the Marine Mammal Protection Act allows his agency to balance “the management of and conflict between two species.”
In a statement, Stelle said “a thorough analysis shows that a small number of California sea lions preying on salmon and steelhead are having a significant effect on the ability of fish stocks to recover.”
Robin Brown, marine mammal program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Oregonian his agency is prepared to capture and euthanize California sea lions this week.