Group asks judge to halt sea lion killings

PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal judge will decide by the end of May whether to stop the government from killing sea lions that eat endangered wild salmon bottled up at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon heard more than three hours of arguments Tuesday on an injunction request from The Humane Society of the United States. The group wants to keep sea lions alive while its suit against the killing goes through the court system.

Much of Tuesday’s hearing was devoted to interpretations about the number of salmon eaten by sea lions and whether it represents a “significant negative impact” compared to the numbers taken by fishermen.

Sea lions have been eating fewer salmon in recent years, and it is “completely disingenuous” for the government to add the animals to a hit list while allowing fishermen to increase their take, Ralph Henry, a Humane Society lawyer, said.

But government and tribal lawyers said fishermen — unlike sea lions —take mostly hatchery fish, not protected by the Endangered Species Act, because they can identify them from a clipped fin. The lawyers also noted that the government has taken steps over the years to limit the damage to salmon caused by fishing and hydroelectric power.

“They all have adverse effects and they’re all being managed,” Justice Department attorney Michael Eitel told the judge.

The hearing was the latest in a lengthy legal battle over a program that allows the fish and wildlife departments in Idaho, Oregon and Washington to kill sea lions that eat endangered salmon. Nine sea lions have died by lethal injection this spring, and almost 50 have been killed or relocated since the program started in 2008.

The program had a one-year hiatus in 2011, after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the killings.

NOAA’s Fisheries Service renewed the program in March, authorizing Washington, Oregon and Idaho agencies to kill up to 92 animals annually for the next four years. A Washington D.C. judge then limited the killing to a maximum of 30 per year and said the sea lions couldn’t be killed by gunshot.

Early in Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Simon told the Humane Society lawyer he would have a “tough road to hoe” in winning the injunction because the killings won’t threaten the sea lion species, and plaintiffs need to prove that significant harm was imminent.

California sea lions are federally protected as marine mammals, but not as endangered or threatened species. Each spring, they swim about 145 upriver to the Bonneville Dam, where they feed on salmon. Authorities keep close track of which sea lions are eating a lot of salmon, and target the worst offenders for capture and lethal injection.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

A view of a 6 parcel, 4.4 acre piece of land in Edmonds, south of Edmonds-Woodway High School on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Housing authority seeks more property in Edmonds

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County doesn’t have specific plans for land near 80th Avenue West, if its offer is accepted.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Emergency responders surround an ultralight airplane that crashed Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington, Washington, resulting in the pilot's death. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Pilot dead in ultralight plane crash at Arlington Municipal Airport

There were no other injuries or fatalities reported, a city spokesperson said.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
County Council delays vote on requiring businesses to take cash

Concerns over information and enforcement postponed the council’s scheduled vote on the ordinance Wednesday in Snohomish County.

A girl walks her dog along a path lined with dandelions at Willis D. Tucker Community Park on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Spraying in Willis Tucker Park resurfaces debate over herbicides

Park staff treated about 11,000 square feet with glyphosate and 2,4-D. When applied correctly, staff said they aren’t harmful.

One of Snohomish County PUD’s new smart readers is installed at a single family home Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
PUD program seeks to make energy grid smarter for 380K customers

The public utility’s ConnectUp program will update 380,000 electric meters and 23,000 water meters in the next few years.

An example of the Malicious Women Co. products (left) vs. the Malicious Mermaid's products (right). (U.S. District Court in Florida)
Judge: Cheeky candle copycat must pay Snohomish company over $800K

The owner of the Malicious Women Co. doesn’t expect to receive any money from the Malicious Mermaid, a Florida-based copycat.

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

Most Read