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Orcas and Salmon Need Smart Solutions

chinook salmon underwater, southern resident killer whales, sea lion on beach

We are closer than ever before to removing four outdated, salmon-killing dams.

Thanks to a recent court ruling and enormous support for dam removal in the first round of a public review process for dam operations in the Columbia River Basin, we are closer than ever before to removing four outdated, salmon-killing dams on the Lower Snake River in the Columbia River Basin.  This river system used to be the largest producer of Chinook salmon on the West Coast, and is still a vital source of these salmon for the Southern Residents.  

Salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest have declined for decades, largely as a result of dams blocking their passage upstream, and are now a shadow of their former abundance. However, some legislators in the Northwest refuse to let these dams go, and are now supporting the harmful idea that seals and sea lions are to blame for endangered salmon runs.  These elected officials are looking for any other source of blame for the decline of salmon – including targeting sea lions.

Impacts from predation pale in comparison to the real threats.  Sea lions are being held up as scapegoats and now are being marked for execution by legislation based on poor science, and faulty management that won’t do anything to help salmon recovery.  

  • Human harvest quotas are significantly higher than the documented percentage of salmon runs taken by sea lions.  The bill makes unsubstantiated claims that sea lions are eating close to a quarter of the fish in the runs, but there is no science behind that wild accusation. For example, in 2014, the government allowed fisheries to take up to 12% of endangered salmon populations; California sea lion predation that year was documented at 1.6% of the salmon run of several hundred thousand fish (including both endangered and non-listed salmon).
  • Ecosystems are complex, and not as simple as salmon-sea lion-human.  Sea lions are generalist predators and eat many species of fish, including other things that eat salmon.
  • Sea lions are native to the Columbia River area, and historical records, including from Lewis and Clark, show they have been swimming upriver to forage for hundreds of years or more.
  • This is a distraction from the real challenges facing Columbia River salmon, and will do nothing to help their recovery.

Unfortunately, despite our opposition, the "Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act" (H.R. 2083 and S. 3119) passed last year and was signed into law, increasing the number of sea lions that can be killed in the Columbia River each year to nearly 1000. 

Please call your legislators today and tell them to support what will really help salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest.  Our salmon and orcas need smart solutions to restore a healthy, resilient ecosystem: removing outdated and unnecessary dams, restoring habitat, and addressing impacts from hatcheries and invasive species.