Subject: Case Study: Sea Lion War (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Wed, 5 Jun 1996 08:14:21 -0400 (EDT)

Why would fishermen kill sea lions?
Why would they compete?
Is this fair?
What can be done to prevent this from happening?

J. Michael Williamson
   Wheelock College
   Principal Investigator-WhaleNet <>
   Associate Professor-Science
voice: 617.734.5200, ext. 256
fax:    617.566.7369


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 4 Jun 96 11:13:00 UTC 0000
Subject: Sea Lion War

Sea Lion War

 Associated Press Writer
   HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (AP) -- A long-fought war between fishermen
and sea lions off the California coast for the fish both need to
survive is getting uglier, and deadlier.
   The carcasses of four slain sea lions washed up along a one-mile
stretch of sand near Half Moon Bay two weeks ago. Three were shot
through the head. One had apparently drowned in a net, although it,
too, may also have been shot.
   In the throat of one animal was the partially eaten prize that
fuels the war -- a salmon.
   While fishermen say they need to do whatever is necessary to get
to the salmon -- their livelihood -- before the seals, animal
advocates say the fishermen go unpunished for breaking the law and
are killing more lions than ever before.
   "It is not a quick, clean kill. It's a shooting frenzy. A lot
of anger is being directed at these animals," says Sally Smith of
the Marine Mammal Center.
   Ray Bandar has examined and collected sea mammalcarcasses for
the California Academy of Sciences for decades, and says he's never
seen so many killed at one time. But there have been shootings
   "Seals and sea lions have always been the targets of the guys
who fish," he says.
   The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, across the Golden Gate
from San Francisco, takes in ill or injured animals, and Smith says
it is seeing the increasing toll of the war over fish. In 1995, the
center rescued 345 sea lions -- 10 percent had gunshot wounds.
   One animal was hit with buckshot, birdshot and .45-caliber
bullets, says Dawn Smith, the Center's director of animal care.
   "A lot of them have bullet holes in the roof of their mouths,"
she says. "That's what you see when they're shot following a
   Shot in violation of federal law, she adds.
   Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act strengthened in 1994,
killing or harassing sea mammals is a crime.
   But enforcement by the National Marine Fisheries Service is
virtually nonexistent. Only a handful of agents patrol the
California coast, and protecting sea mammals is just a small part
of their responsibility, says NMFS biologist Joseph Cordaro. Even
with more agents, the chances of discovering who shot an animal at
sea are small.
   Dawn Smith says she knows of only one fisherman who has been
prosecuted in the past eight years for shooting a sea lion.
   Zeke Grader, head of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's
Associations, represents 3,000 small commercial fishermen. He
condemns the shootings, but says the fishermen desperately need
   "Sea lion predation -- taking fish from both commercial and
sporting boats -- has become really heavy in the past two years,"
he says. "At times it's been almost impossible to work. We've been
clamoring for years."
   The small fisherman who puts out four or five lines to catch
salmon suffers the most, he says. The sea lions wait until a fish
is snagged, then simply steal it off the line.
   "It can cost them anywhere from $20 to $50 for each fish," he
says. "If you have four or five fish on the lines and you lose
half of them, that's a big loss."
   Conservationists and fishermen agree the population of
California sea lions has increased since they came under federal
protection in 1972. Grader says that because traditional hunting by
grizzlies, mountain lions and Indians has stopped, the sea lions
have also become bolder.
   "They are pests out there right now," he says.
   Fishermen themselves are partly to blame, Dawn Smith responds.
Overfishing has reduced the catch. Shark fishermen have wiped out
many of the great whites that help keep the sea lion population
   And fishermen initially attracted the sea lions by cleaning fish
onboard and throwing the chum into the water, Smith says.
   There are legal ways to discourage sea lions -- noisemaking
machines and cherry bomb-like firecrackers, for instance -- but they
can be used only if they don't hurt the animals. The sea lions, all
agree, are smart enough to figure that out.
   Dawn Smith joins the fishermen in advocating an end to logging
and other practices that have damaged salmon spawning grounds and
put sea lions and humans on opposite sides of the fight for fish.
And she says a task force of fishermen, conservationists and
regulators might be able to come up with better ways to keep the
sea lions at bay.
   But there's an important difference between humans and sea
lions, she emphasizes.
   "I like salmon as much as the next guy," Dawn Smith says.
"But humans have alternative food sources and sea lions don't."