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Oregon judge throws out lawsuit over sea lion issue

| Feb 26, 2013 | Civil Litigation |

The Humane Society’s lawsuit over several states’ plans to kill sea lions at the Bonneville Dam to protect several types of endangered fish will not continue after an Oregon U.S. District Court judge dismissed the claim with a 44-page opinion in support of the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS). 

Oregon and two other states have been targeted by recurring civil litigation since they first requested permission to kill the sea lions in 2006. The NMFS renewed authorization for the program in 2012 through 2016, asserting that the sea lions posed a substantial threat to local fish reserves and noting that nonlethal efforts have failed to scare them off. The reserves include several types of steelhead and salmon protected by the Endangered Species Act. The NMFS granted the participating states the right to kill up to 92 sea lions each year by shooting or lethal injection.

According to the Humane Society, sea lions consume around 4 percent of the affected fish near the dam. Because recreational and commercial anglers typically catch as much as 17 percent of the fish, the Society argued that the NMFS was arbitrary in authorizing the program without also imposing limits on fishermen. 

The judge rejected the Humane Society’s claim, ruling that the NMFS “did not act arbitrarily or capriciously” and asserting that its decision to reauthorize the lethal take program was appropriate. The judge noted that government records of the sea lion’s consumption of salmon meet the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s standard for having a “meaningful” impact on local wild fish.

Additionally, the judge said that official data likely unrepresented the actual amount of fish consumed by the sea lions. He also explained that while commercial fisheries can reduce their fishing efforts when salmon stock is low, the lethal take has proven to be the only way to stop sea lions from eating more fish.

Source: Oregon Live, “Judge dismisses Humane Society lawsuit that opposed killing sea lions at Bonneville Dam,” Scott Learn, Feb. 15, 2013