Judge Clears Way for California Sea Lion Hunt

     PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – State agents near the Bonneville Dam have permission to kill California sea lions that feast on salmon and steelhead, a federal judge ruled after denying the Humane Society’s request for an injunction.
     In 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service authorized fishermen to kill up to 85 California sea lions seen eating salmon near the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.
     The Humane Society of the United States, the Wild Fish Conservancy and two Humane Society members sued Secretary of Commerce John Bryson and two top National Marine Fisheries Service officials in March, claiming their decision to authorize shooting of more sea lions violated the Administrative Procedures Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammals Protection Act.
     “Sea lions eat fish,” the plaintiffs concede in their 44-page complaint. “Each year, California sea lions eat between 0.4 and 4.2 percent of the 80,000 to 300,000 salmon and steelhead that spawn in the Columbia River. In comparison, fishermen are authorized to take approximately up to 17 percent of adults, hydroelectric dams are allowed to take up to 17 percent of adults, and non-native fish such as bass and walleye (of which hundreds of thousands are intentionally released by the government each year), take more than 2 million juveniles each year. Despite these impacts, recent Chinook salmon returns have been among the highest seen in a decade, and the states of Washington and Oregon have increased the amount of take permitted by fishermen over the last few years, allowing fishermen to take up to 12 percent of the total run in 2011, over 10 times the 1.1 percent total consumption by California sea lions that same year.”
     The states of Oregon and Washington intervened in the suit, which was filed in Washington D.C.’s Federal Court. The case was transferred to Oregon.
     The D.C. court limited the states’ authority to kill no more than 30 sea lions in 2012, and forbid agents from shooting the animals, but denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a restraining order.
     On Wednesday, the Oregon court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for an injunction that would stop agents from killing sea lions.
     District Judge Michael Simon found the plaintiffs proved an irreparable injury if the states continue to kill individual sea lions, but that the requested injunction may impede the states’ ability to protect the threatened fish populations.
     Plaintiffs Andrea Kozil and Bethanie O’Driscoll testified that they enjoy watching the sea lions around the dam, and would be upset if the individual sea lions they have observed were killed.
     The court acknowledged a “real and significant” hardship on the Kozil and O’Driscoll if the government continued to allow sea lion removal.
     However, the plaintiffs challenge the government’s decision under the Endangered Species Act, which governs whole populations rather than individual animals.
     “No one in this litigation disputes that the [sea lion] population is robust and neither endangered nor threatened and that the authorized lethal removals will not harm the viability of the species as a whole,” Judge Simon wrote.
     While the plaintiffs established some elements that would support an injunction, they failed to convince the judge that they would succeed on the merits of their claim that the sea lion decision was arbitrary and capricious.
     “It is a combination of the complexity of the issues, the agency’s facially plausible explanations, and the deferential scope of review that create uncertainty about the ultimate resolution of this argument at this preliminary stage of the proceedings,” Judge Simon wrote.

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