PORTLAND, Ore., March 22 (Reuters) - A judge cleared the way
on Thursday for three U.S. states to kill California Sea Lions
caught feasting on endangered salmon while a lawsuit is hashed
out in court.
But the order by a U.S. District Court judge in Washington
D.C. limits the number of sea lions that can be trapped and
killed in three states of the U.S. Pacific Northwest to 30 a
year, less than a third of the number the National Marine
Fisheries Service would have allowed.
The Humane Society of the United States and other animal
rights advocates have argued that the sea lions are unfairly
blamed for declining fishery stocks on the Columbia River.
"Obviously we are very disappointed that this program was
not halted," said Sharon Young, marine issues field director of
the Humane Society. "But, we are grateful that the court put
some restraints on it."
California Sea Lions swim 140 miles from the ocean to gather
at the Bonneville Dam dividing Washington and Oregon and prey on
endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead trout. The fish
collect at the hydroelectric dam as they swim upstream to spawn.
Earlier this month, the National Marine Fisheries Service
gave the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho permission to
kill up to 92 California Sea Lions per year up to May 2016, but
only those known to be eating listed fish and only if they could
not be placed in zoos or aquariums.
Since 2008, 28 sea lions have been killed and 10 placed in
institutions under similar salmon-protection programs overseen
by the Fisheries Service.
Federal Judge James Boasberg ordered that no more than 30
sea lions be killed per year and that they may not be shot; only
trapped and given lethal injections.
The states argue that California Sea Lions are hindering
salmon recovery efforts in the Northwest. But animal protection
activists say human fishing, hatchery practices, dams and
environmental degradation pose a far greater risk to the fish.
A lawsuit brought by the Humane Society, the Wild Fish
Conservancy and others asks the courts to halt sea lion
killings, arguing that the program violates the Marine Mammal
Protection Act and other laws.
(Reporting by Teresa Carson)
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