At Issue: The Environment
Sea lions playing. REUTERS

Score one for the sea lions -- or at least for sea lion rights, and for those who support a more harmonious relationship between humans and the animal world.

Following a Humane Society of the United States petition, federal officials have decided to revoke the authorization for Oregon and Washington to kill sea lions eating endangered salmon at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

However, officials caution that losing-side appeals are likely in this protracted dispute.

Humane Sciety Presses Its Case

The Humane Society said the decision means the two states cannot kill any of the federally protected sea lions unless NOAA fisheries approves a new request.

Federal law permits officials to kill sea lions only if the government proves the creatures have a significant negative impact on the salmon population.

Since 2008, Oregon and Washington have killed dozens of sea lions that feed on salmon migrating upriver to spawn in the spring as they hit the bottleneck of fish ladders over Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River east of Portland, reported Wednesday.

"We're delighted the agency has changed its mind and revoked the State's authorization to kill hundreds of native sea lions for having the audacity to eat fish for dinner," Jonathan R. Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation for The Humane Society said, in a statement. "It's time to face the fact that killing sea lions doesn't do anything for salmon, and focus instead on real salmon conservation threats, like hydropower and commercial fishing."

Steve Williams, assistant chief of fisheries for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, took a different view of the intervention to save the sea lions, and said they would apply for a new permit, and expected to get it.

"It's a disappointing, frustrating situation for us in the state, but it appears to be the best course of action at this point in time," he said, reported. "We believe that removal of the animals at the dam has been effective."