Subject: Case Study: Sea Lions and Fish

Michael Williamson (whe_william)
Mon, 18 Jan 1995 08:13:23

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From: Michael Williamson <WHE_WILLIAM@FLO.ORG>
Subject: Case Study: Sea Lions and Fish
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Subj:	Sea Lions
Date:         Tue, 17 Jan 1995 00:19:00 UTC
Reply-To:     Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
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Subject:      Sea Lions
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Sea Lions
 Associated Press Writer
   SEATTLE (AP) -- For years, state and federal fisheries officials
have tried everything from firecrackers to rubber-tipped arrows to
stop hungry sea lions from feasting on trout swimming through a
fish ladder.
   Now, they have another option: execution.
   Following months of contentious debate, the National Marine
Fisheries Service recently approved the state's request for
permission to kill sea lions as a last resort to protect Lake
Washington steelhead trout, a scarce game fish that swims through
the Ballard Locks to spawn.
   "We've certainly tried everything we can think of," said Brian
Gorman, a spokesman for the Commerce Department, which oversees
NMFS. "This is clearly a last-resort attempt to solve a very
serious problem with the steelhead run."
   However, because of several strict conditions imposed by the
fisheries service, it's unlikely any sea lions will be killed
anytime soon.
   Before "lethal removal" can take place, the state must ensure
that all feasible and practical nonlethal removal methods have been
exhausted, NMFS administrator Rolland Schmitten said.
   For example, the state must try to prevent the sea lions from
approaching the locks by using special noise-making devices to
scare them away. It must also try to capture and find temporary
holding facilities for sea lions identified as munching on
steelhead. And the animals would have to be eating more than 10
percent of the steelhead run during a seven-day period before
lethal removal could be considered.
   Those were among the conditions recommended last November by a
federally convened task force of scientists, environmentalists,
fish organizations and others.
   Dr. John Grandy, vice president of wildlife and habitat
protection for the Humane Society of the United States, said he was
pleased the fisheries service was emphasizing nonlethal solutions.
He warned, though, that his group will go to court if state or
federal officials move to kill any sea lions.
   "Our commitment remains: If they attempt to allow any animals
to be killed, we will bring suit," he said.
   The Humane Society and the Lynnwood-based Progressive Animal
Welfare Society, which met with Schmitten earlier this month,
assert that killing the animals would violate the National
Environmental Policy Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They
and other groups also say that killing the sea lions -- collectively
nicknamed "Herschel" -- won't save the fish.
   The environmentalists contend that any sea lions killed would
only be replaced by others. They advocate more humane restraint,
such as holding troublesome sea lions until the fish run is over.
They also suggest that sea lion predation is not the only reason
for the steelhead decline, which could be complicated by
overfishing and habitat problems.
   The California sea lions congregate each year outside the
Ballard Locks, which connect Puget Sound with Lakes Union and
Washington. From January through March, steelhead bound for
spawning grounds in Lake Washington are funneled through a fish
ladder at the locks, which makes them easy pickings for the hungry
   When Herschel and his buddies first started showing up in the
1986-87 season, some 1,172 steelhead passed through the locks,
Gorman said. Last season, that figure dropped to 70.
   Meanwhile, Washington's population of California sea lions has
grown from occasional sightings in the 1970s to 400-500 today, NMFS
   Overall, the population of the California sea lion is growing
about 10 percent annually and now numbers more than 100,000, the
NMFS said.
   "Nobody knows what percentage of those fish are being eaten by
sea lions, but suffice it to say it is a substantial amount,"
Gorman said.
   In past years, the fisheries service and the state have tried a
variety of means to control sea lion predation: capturing and
trucking them back to California, installing barriers and changing
water flows at the locks, shooting the animals with rubber-tipped
arrows, feeding them bad-tasting fish and setting off firecrackers.
But each year, the pesky mammals returned.
   Under an amendment last year to the Marine Mammal Protection
Act, the state in July petitioned the federal government for
permission to kill the nuisance animals. Such killings would be
done "humanely" -- such as by lethal injection -- under the
supervision of a veterinarian.
   Schmitten said he would immediately make available $120,000 in
federal funds to the state to identify and temporarily hold
nuisance sea lions.
   Fred Felleman of the Washington Environmental Council said
fisheries officials have underestimated the number of Lake
Washington steelhead, which are under consideration for protection
under the Endangered Species Act. And he said officials should work
harder on finding ways to get fish past the locks faster.
   At the moment, he said, the fish are "sitting ducks."