Feds Won't Appeal 9th Circuit Ruling on Sea Lions
by Erik Robinson
Seattle Times, January 19, 2011
VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Sea lions feasting on salmon at Bonneville Dam will stay out of the cross hairs at least until March and potentially permanently, federal fisheries officials announced Wednesday.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that it won't appeal a November ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A three-judge panel ruled that officials must explain how it's OK to kill a natural predator while allowing human fishermen to inadvertently kill an equal or greater proportion of wild fish. The ruling, which overturned a lower-court decision, effectively blocked a waiver to the Marine Mammal Protection Act issued by the fisheries service in early 2008.
Federal officials had considered appealing the 9th Circuit's decision, issued Nov. 23.
"The bottom line is we're not going to work any further through the court process," said Garth Griffin, a federal fisheries biologist overseeing the lethal-removal permit. "We understand what the court said, and they gave us guidance."
He said the agency will conduct a new analysis of sea-lion predation at the dam.
"We won't have our new determination made until probably March," Griffin said. "Nothing will happen between now and then."
He added that Washington and Oregon wildlife authorities will be free to use nonlethal hazing to scatter sea lions feasting on salmon and sturgeon at the man-made bottleneck 143 miles upriver from the Pacific Ocean. The sea lions followed an unusually large run of spring chinook in 2001 and have returned each year since.
The animals usually begin to appear at the dam in February.
NMFS had permitted state game agents to kill nuisance animals eating wild salmon, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The permit authorized the states to remove as many as 85 nuisance animals per year.
Wildlife agents have captured and euthanized 22 animals and relocated 10 sea lions to zoos or aquariums since the program began.
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