Sea lions to be culled to protect salmon

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The is accepting public comments on a new plan to cull sea lions on the Columbia River, along the Oregon-Washington border, in order to benefit populations of salmon and steelhead, which have been falling in recent years.

Current management policy allows up to 92 California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) to be culled each year at Bonneville Dam, although managers have never reached the limit.

More sea lions could be culled under a new plan to protect salmon and steelhead along the Columbia River.© USFWS

The new plan would increase removal limits to more than 1,000 annually — up to 900 California sea lions and 250 (Eumetopias jubatus) — along a stretch of the river starting 112 miles inland from the river’s mouth and extending upstream to McNary Dam at river mile 292.

In that area, sea lions exclusively prey on salmon and steelhead, mostly at dams where the fish are easy to catch as they migrate upstream.

Under existing management, California sea lions are captured at Bonneville Dam by state and federal employees and euthanized off-site.

The new plan would also allow tribes to remove sea lions and expand the sites from which sea lions will be removed. NOAA developed the plan at the request of Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Native American tribes.

Thirteen species of Columbia basin salmon and steelhead are listed under the Act. State and federal agencies, tribes and partner organizations have spent billions of dollars over the past few decades on various efforts to recover the populations, including habitat restoration and fish passage at dams, in addition to sea lion removals.

NOAA estimates that sea lions consume nearly 10,000 adult spring a year, more than 3% of returning adult fish. Overall, NOAA believes that approximately 25 to 35% of the fish consumed by sea lion are listed under the ESA.

Removals efforts have been underway since 2008. In 2016, NOAA estimated that removals at Bonneville Dam between 2008 and 2016 prevented the loss of 15,000 to 20,000 salmon and steelhead.

While it can be controversial, prevention or control of wildlife damage, which often includes removal of the animals responsible for the damage, is an essential and responsible part of wildlife management, as noted in ’s standing position onWildlife Damage Management.

The plight of Columbia River salmon and steelheads has also gained Congressional attention in recent years, with legislation introduced during the last Congress to increase the numbers of California sea lions culled each year at Bonneville Dam.

That bill passed the House of Representatives but did not pass the Senate before the end of the 115th Congress.

This article was first published by The Wildlife Society on 9 September 2019.

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Jesse Anderson
Jesse Anderson

We have seen such a rapid decline on our salmon and steelhead, and also on the sturgeon, and the biggest culprits are the sea lions. They have wiped out so many of the brooder sturgeon, some over a hundred years old. The mouth of the Siletz River is very narrow. The salmon can only enter the river thru that narrow channel. There are over four hundred Sea Lions residing on that point when the salmon run starts. They generally take one bite, the egg area, and go to another. You have a very hard time landing a fish after it… Read more »

Solem de Guzman

Stop it! Leave them alone.Stop the Japanese from whaling and killing of innocent seals including the babies. They will again make a sea in Japan red with the blood of these innocent and sweet yong seals . STOP please!


Banning factory ships would be more useful.

Viorica Regep


Laurel Turansky

And why do the salmon need protection — maybe the wrong species is being culled

Linda Ann

Why are they being culled, but people can pull as many fish from the sea? Overfishing and habitat destruction is the real culprit. Whales and other sea life are turning up, either starving or full of plastic. Restrictions on human harvesting of fish and habitat protection is needed more than the culling of sea lions.

Tonia Vassila


Jenny Grinstead

Leave the seals and their food alone!

William Russell

Stop the Japanese fishing trollers of the United States cost. They have huge nets and take everything. Cullen the sea lion and seal population will do nothing.

William Russell

Just a dumb idea.