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The HSUS and Wild Fish Conservancy File Suit To Stop Sea Lion Killing At Bonneville Dam

WASHINGTON (May 20, 2011) — The Humane Society of the United States, Wild Fish Conservancy, and two individual citizens filed suit today in federal court, seeking to stop the National Marine Fisheries Service from authorizing the killing of as many as 255 sea lions at Bonneville Dam over the next three years.

In November 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned a prior attempt by the agency to authorize the killing of sea lions, finding that NMFS had not properly justified its decision and that salmon populations are at greater risk from overfishing and dam operations than they are from native sea lion predation.  Sea lions have been consuming an average of 2.5 percent of the salmon over the past 3 years at the same time that permitted fisheries in the Columbia River have harvested as much as 17 percent of the record high salmon returns.

“Federal law allows the killing of sea lions only in very limited circumstances, when the agency proves they are having a significant negative impact on salmon,” said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation for The HSUS. “The National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to kill hundreds of native marine mammals to reduce salmon losses by a couple of percentage points, while simultaneously authorizing much larger  man-made sources of endangered salmon mortality, is both outrageous and patently illegal.”

While blaming sea lions for eating salmon, the states and NMFS have largely ignored recommendations of government scientists to stop stocking non-native fish like bass and walleye and adopting angler regulations that  perpetuate their high levels of  predation on  salmon. Experts have warned that that curbing the impact of these non-native fish is imperative for salmon recovery.

“Blaming sea lions is nothing but a distraction,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “The National Marine Fisheries Service needs to look objectively at dam operation and over-harvest, hatchery practices and the stocking of non-native fish which together kill significantly more salmon and prevent them from reaching high-quality spawning habitat.”      


  • While birds, other fish, sea lions and fishermen all kill salmon, the primary threats are from loss of quality spawning habitat and dams blocking their normal migratory routes up and down river.
  • The plan to shoot sea lions coincides with estimates that this spring’s Columbia River salmon run is likely to be the among the  largest in almost 30 years while, as of May 2011,  the daily number of sea lions at  the dam is the lowest since 2003 and the time each animal spends at the dam has been steadily declining.
  • The major causes of salmon losses are:

*Dams: NMFS estimates the Federal Columbia River Power System kills 16.8 percent of adult Snake River Basin Steelhead and 59.9 percent of juveniles.

*Hatcheries: In 2010, a Congressionally-mandate science panel found that current fish hatchery practices interfere with recovery and are in urgent need of reform.

*Fishing: The states annually authorize the incidental take of between 5.5 and 17 percent of the Upper Columbia spring Chinook and Upper Snake River spring/summer Chinook.  Additional salmon are killed in ocean fisheries.

*Other Predators: NMFS estimated that bird predators consumed 18 percent of juvenile salmonids reaching the Columbia River estuary in 1998. NMFS scientists also estimate that non-native walleye eat up to 3 million juvenile salmon in the Columbia    


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.





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