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Sea Lion Rebound Brings Frustrations

Tom Banse
03/31/2006

How's this for a remarkable comeback? Government scientists report the sea lion population on the West Coast has quadrupled since hunting stopped some thirty years ago. That improves your chances of shooting a cute picture. Some fishers hope it also means they can again shoot bullets at the California sea lions. Regional Correspondent Tom Banse has more.

TRANSCRIPT

SOUND: [barking sea lions]

A CLUMP OF CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS IS SOAKING UP THE FLEETING SUN ON A FLOATING DOCK IN THE PORT OF GOLD BEACH, OREGON. THEIR BARKING SOUNDS ALMOST LIKE TAUNTS IN THE FISHING OFFICES ALONG THE SHORE. A THIRD GENERATION ROGUE RIVER GUIDE, SEAN CARPENTER, SAYS SEA LIONS HAVE TAKEN TO STEALING FISH RIGHT OFF HIS CUSTOMERS LINES.

CARPENTER: "There have been days out here where maybe a 100 fish were caught, hooked all day and twenty five landed. Seventy five go to the sea lions."

SOUND: [more sea lion barking]

GUIDES LIKE CARPENTER HAVE GOTTEN NASTY E-MAILS AND LETTERS FROM CLIENTS WHO VOW NEVER TO RETURN. MAYBE YOU'D FEEL THE SAME WAY IF YOU PAID $125 FOR A FRUITLESS HALF DAY FISHING TRIP.

CARPENTER: "People get very angry. There's not a lot I can do. I mean other than the paintball, the banging around, trying to rev the engine up, trying to scare them. None of that works anymore."

SO GOLD BEACH IS SET TO BECOME THE FIRST NORTHWEST COMMUNITY TO HIRE ITS OWN CIVILIAN SEA LION WARDEN. HE'LL PATROL THE BAY THIS SUMMER GOING TO THE LIMIT OF WHAT'S LEGAL TO DRIVE OFF THE FLIPPERED FISH FIENDS. SQUIRTING THEM, MAKING NOISE IS OK; HURTING THEM IS NOT. VOLUNTEERS ALSO PLAN TO NAIL PLYWOOD BARRICADES AROUND FAVORED SEA LION HAUL OUTS. BUT SEAN CARPENTER FIGURES THE ONLY LONG-TERM SOLUTION IS RESUMED HUNTING.

CARPENTER: "They're very ugly when they've got your fish in their mouth. But they are a beautiful animal and people see those. I don't know how people are going to react to hunting them. But that's what really needs to be done."

OPEN SEASON ON CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS ISN'T A FAR FETCHED AS IT WOULD'VE BEEN A FEW YEARS AGO. THE ANIMALS HAVE BEEN HIGHLY PROTECTED SINCE THE EARLY 1970'S. AT THAT TIME, HUNTING HAD DEPRESSED THEIR NUMBERS TO ONE-FOURTH OR ONE-FIFTH OF WHAT WE SEE TODAY. SCIENTISTS HAVE DOCUMENTED A TREMENDOUS RECOVERY. GET THIS: THE SEA LION POPULATION SEEMS TO HAVE REBOUNDED ALL THE WAY TO ITS NATURAL PEAK. THAT ACCORDING TO MARINE MAMMAL SPECIALIST BRENT NORBERG OF THE FEDERAL FISHERIES SERVICE.

NORBERG: "Beginning with the Marine Mammal Protection Act in '72 it started growing a fairly rapid rate, from say 5 to 7 percent per year. And now the population growth rate appears to be slowing - or leveling off -- which would give us an indication that it's reaching its balance point."

THE FINDINGS HAVE NOT BEEN PUBLISHED YET. BUT WHEN THE OFFICIAL WORD COMES, STATES CAN APPLY TO -- QUOTE -- "MANAGE" THEIR SEA LIONS. COLUMBIA RIVER TRIBES ARE ALL FOR IT. THEY WANT MORE AGGRESSIVE CONTROL OF SEA LIONS THAT FEAST ON WEAK SALMON RUNS. THIS YEAR, SOME SEA LIONS HAVE ALSO BEEN OBSERVED CHOWING ON STURGEON, A CONCERN BECAUSE THE COLUMBIA RIVER HOSTS THE LAST HEALTHY STOCK OF THAT SPECIES.

SOUND: [harbor ambience with seagulls]

IN THE FISHING HARBOR OF COOS BAY, SALMON TROLLER RAYBURN GUERIN SAYS KILLING PERHAPS 500 OF THE WORST TROUBLEMAKERS SHOULD DO NO HARM TO THE OVERALL SEA LION POPULATION THAT STANDS AT A QUARTER MILLION.

GUERIN: "They gotta cut the numbers back. What's going on in the Columbia, that's completely ludicrous. You're trying to save a species and then a specie that's doing very well, you can't eliminate a few of 'em."

THE STATES OF OREGON AND WASHINGTON ARE APPLYING FOR FEDERAL PERMISSION TO "REMOVE" PROBLEM SEA LIONS FROM THE COLUMBIA RIVER. REMOVAL COULD ENTAIL CAPTURE AND RELOCATION OR KILLING, STARTING NEXT YEAR. KILLING EVEN A FEW OF THE CHARISMATIC CREATURES IS BOUND TO STIR UP ANIMAL RIGHTS OBJECTIONS, SO A BROADER HUNTING SEASON SEEMS REMOTE. I'M TOM BANSE IN GOLD BEACH, OREGON.

SOUND [SEA LION COLONY]: up again

© Copyright 2006, KUOW

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