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Federal Appeals Court Blocks Sea Lion Killing at Bonneville Dam

SAN FRANCISCO — The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has halted the National Marine Fisheries Service’s program to kill federally protected sea lions at the Bonneville Dam on the Washington and Oregon border. The Court, ruling on an appeal filed by The Humane Society of the United States and the Wild Fish Conservancy, found that the agency had failed to explain how the killing of sea lions is consistent with the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“The government’s plan to kill sea lions for eating fish, while at the same time authorizing fishermen to take four times as many fish as sea lions is irrational, and the court has rightly put a stop to it,” said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president & chief counsel for animal protection litigation for The HSUS. “It’s time for the agency to abandon this plan and work cooperatively with us to protect both sea lions and salmon in the Columbia River.”

In 2008, The HSUS and the other plaintiffs asked the Ninth Circuit to stop the killing of sea lions after a federal district court in Oregon denied plaintiffs’ request for an injunction. The lawsuit challenges NMFS’ conclusion that sea lions must be killed to prevent them from consuming an average of 0.4 to 4.2 percent of salmon returns, even as the agency allows fishermen to take up to 17 percent of the salmon run.

“Blaming sea lions is nothing but a distraction,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “We’re glad the Court recognized that the agency must consider its salmon conservation decisions openly and carefully, considering all impacts to salmon — including dams, fisheries and habitat degradation.”

Federal law only allows the killing of sea lions when the agency proves they are having a significant negative impact on salmon. The court found that the agency failed to reconcile its conclusion that sea lions are having a “significant negative impact” on salmon with the agency’s previous finding “that fisheries that cause similar or greater mortality among these populations are not having significant negative impacts.”


The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

Wild Fish Conservancy is a non-profit organization dedicated to the recovery and conservation of the Northwest region's wild-fish ecosystems, with about 2,400 members. Wild Fish Conservancy's staff of over 20 professional scientists, advocates, and educators work to promote technically and socially responsible habitat, hatchery, and harvest management to better sustain the region's wild fish heritage.