The National Marine Fisheries Service has announced new criteria for putting California sea lions on the list for lethal removal at Bonneville Dam.
The new rules could allow wildlife managers to kill more sea lions to protect salmon on the Columbia River.
Under the old rules, before a sea lion at the dam could be killed, it had to be seen eating a salmon or steelhead and be seen in the area for five days. Sea lions were also subjected to hazing with noisemakers meant to scare them off.
Shaun Clements, with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said those criteria were too hard to meet.
“It’s difficult to see those animals underwater and see them doing those behaviors,” Clements said. “Oftentimes we’ll have an animal there for over a year and we can’t meet those criteria even though we know it’s there eating salmon and steelhead every day.”
The new rules still require hazing as a first step, but then it’s only necessary to see the sea lion eating a fish or seeing them in the area for five days.
“By doing this it just streamlines that whole process and means we can remove them more quickly and stop them from recruiting other animals,” Clements said.
The new rules mean more of the sea lions at the dam are likely to be killed each year, though the limit of 92 sea lions remains the same.
A study by the National Marine Fisheries Service found sea lions were eating between 20% and 43% of the spring Chinook run of salmon on the river.
Since 2008, officials have killed more than 200 sea lions below Bonneville Dam to protect imperiled fish. So far this year, according to Clements, they have killed seven at Bonneville Dam and 27 below Willamette Falls on the Willamette River.