The federal government gave Oregon, Washington and Idaho permission to kill California sea lions that eat threatened and endangered salmon in the Columbia River Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) decision upset animal rights advocates who argue that the creatures are unfairly blamed for low fish stocks, according to The Huffington Post.

NOAA's Fisheries Service gave the three states permission to kill up to 92 sea lions annually for the next four years, but the agency expects only 25 to 30 animals to be killed.

The states only have authorization to kill sea lions that are obviously eating salmon, even after hazing from wildlife managers, and aquariums and zoos will not take them.

The four year authorization is effective from March 20 until May 2016.

Since 2008, Oregon and Washington have killed 28 sea lions and 10 have been sent o facilities, according to NOAA.

We don't take enjoyment in removing these animals, Steve Williams, deputy administrator of Oregon Fish and Wildlife's fish division, told The Seattle Times.

The sea lions swim upstream and cluster at the Bonneville Dam, between Oregon and Washington, to eat salmon and steelhead trout as the fish swim up the Columbia River to spawn, according to The Huffington Post. The sea lions are most active between April and May, during the height of the Chinook salmon run. This is why the states see the animals as a threat to the recovery of fish.

Idaho is allowed to target sea lions, although far from the coast, because its fish stocks are harmed by the sea lions downriver.

According to NOAA, between less than 1 percent and 4 percent of the salmon along the Columbia River is eaten by sea lions. The number peaked in 2010 to 6,000 and dropped to 3,600 last year.

This hardly seems like a situation that requires fatal management, Sharon B. Young, marine issues field director for the Human Society of the U.S., told The Seattle Times.