Salmon Beware: There Are More Sea Lions Off California

Sea lions catch some rays off Half Moon Bay. Studies says their numbers have tripled. (Steve Martarano/USFWS)


Sea lions eat salmon. Fishermen catch salmon. There are a lot more sea lions off the California coast getting in on the salmon action. Here’s more about the sea lions’ population boom from the San Jose Mercury News:  

No longer hunted for their dense fur, sea otters have risen in number, and California gray whales — which were being killed from a whaling station in Richmond for Kal-Kan dog food as recently as 1972 — have bounced back so much that they have been removed from the federal Endangered Species list.

But California sea lions — which range from Mexico to Alaska — have exploded the most in number, jumping from an estimated 88,924 in 1975 to 257,606 in 2014, according to the new NOAA study.

They have broken docks and sunk boats at marinas. They have vexed salmon fishermen, following their boats and eating valuable fish off their lines.

“With some fishing days seeing as few as five to 10 fish, a commercial fisherman can still make money with 10 fish if they are $10 per pound, but if you’re losing them to sea lions that can have a major effect,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association in San Francisco. …

NOAA’s Melin noted that federal lawmakers have amended the act to allow the killing of a few California sea lions that have eaten large numbers of endangered salmon. In 2008, federal officials gave a permit to Washington, Oregon and Idaho to kill about 80 sea lions a year that were congregating at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, eating large numbers of endangered spring run chinook salmon. The permit, which caused an outcry among animal welfare groups, calls for sea lions that are repeat offenders to be branded with a mark. Then, if they continue to eat the fish, they’re trapped and euthanized.

“It is kind of a garbage-can bear situation where animals learn the behavior,” Melin said. “If you can keep animals from learning it, then they don’t go in there. It’s not a population level problem; it’s an individual problem.”


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