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Task Force: Kill more Columbia River sea lions

This May 2010 photo shows a sea lion tossing a partially eaten salmon in the Columbia River near the Bonneville Dam. Should more sea lions be killed to protect salmon runs? A new study says that's what should happen.

A task force convened by the federal government is recommending that wildlife agents get more aggressive about trapping and killing sea lions in the Columbia River.

In recent years, large numbers of sea lions have swum upriver to Bonneville Dam to feast on threatened salmon runs.  The NOAA-convened task force of state and tribal wildlife managers, fishermen and outside experts concluded that hazing nuisance sea lions with firecrackers and rubber bullets has been ineffective.

They're also underwhelmed by the results of limited removals of the hungriest sea lions. Tribal fishery scientist Doug Hatch argues for giving wildlife agents more latitude to trap and kill California sea lions feasting on wild salmon. 

"We need to capture more animals to see if that will get the effect that we were hoping to get, which is predation reduction down to less than 1%," said Hatch.

Animal rights activists not only oppose more killing of sea lions, but want the whole program stopped. The Humane Society and others argue trapping and killing is futile because new sea lions will always come in to replace predators removed.

The task force recommendations now go to the federal fisheries service, which can approve or ignore the input it solicited.

Additional information:

A recent history of federally authorized sea lion trappings and killings on the Columbia River,  from reporter Scott Learn of The Oregonian:

2007: Pinniped task force recommends killing California sea lions seen eating salmon at the dam. Federal officials approve lethal take of up to 85 a year. Report says California sea lions have recovered from about 1,000 in the 1930s to about 238,000, the population's "carrying capacity.

2008: Six California sea lions trapped, relocated to Sea World; one dies under anesthetic and four (along with two Steller sea lions) die from heat exhaustion after being stuck in traps, stopping the program for the year.

2009: 11 California sea lions killed and four relocated to a Chicago aquarium and a Texas zoo.

2010: 14 California sea lions killed. Typically, sea lions leave to breed by the end of May, shortly before the spring chinook run ends.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.