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The Damn Hunger Games on the Columbia River

By March 15, 2013No Comments

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson

Sea Shepherd is proud to announce the launch of the 2013 Dam Guardian campaign to protect California sea lions along the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon. This marks the second year Sea Shepherd has organized a sea lion defense campaign along the Columbia. This season Sea Shepherd has amassed plans to maintain a formidable presence at the Bonneville Dam and the Astoria trap site with a team of more than 30 international volunteers presently scheduled to participate on site. Below is a commentary by Captain Paul Watson originally posted on May 31, 2012.


A Sea Lion painfully branded by government workers for monitoring. Photo: Erwin Vermeulen

Since taking on the issue of defending the sea lions at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, Sea Shepherd has received some nasty hate mail and criticisms from some members of the public.

My favorites are the ones that say, “I supported you in defending the whales and the dolphins but I don’t support you with defending sea lions.”

The comments refer to our campaign with adjectives like  “misguided, stupid, irresponsible etc, etc.”

According to some of these critics Sea Shepherd does not care about the endangered salmon and sea lions are abundant and sea lions belong in the sea and not in the river and numerous other complaints from the advocates of lethal solutions to what they perceive as a problem.

Some of our supporters say they won’t support us anymore in our efforts to protect whales, dolphins and other marine species because they disagree with our campaign to defend sea lions.

“You won’t get another dime from me because of this misguided campaign to save sea lions.” One angry apparently former donor said.

My answer is simply this. “Keep your damn dime, we do not compromise on representing our clients because of money and our clientele includes the California Sea Lion and the Stellar Sea Lion and popular or not, we will not abandon their interests simply because a few humans don’t like them.”

Sea Shepherd understands perfectly that salmon are endangered and we also understand that they are not endangered because of Sea Lions. More salmon are killed in the turbines of the dam than by Sea Lions. Native fishermen, commercial fishermen, sport fishermen take far more salmon from the Columbia River run than the Sea Lion. Pollution kills more salmon than the Sea Lions.

The Sea Lion is being scapegoated because they are (1) convenient, (2) they don’t vote, (3) killing them gives an appearance that the salmon are being protected and (4) the government bureaucrats are simply too damn lazy to deal with the problem in a positive and ecologically efficient manner.

The salmon can be saved by (1) tearing down the destructive damn, (2) banning commercial fishing, (3) banning sport fishing and (4) banning native fishing. And since none of these solutions will be acceptable politically or economically, the bureaucrats have opted for the illusion of a solution by killing a few Sea Lions.

The Sea Lions eat between 1% and 4% of the salmon. The fishermen take 17% and the dam kills another 17%. Cutting the fishermen’s take by 4% would offset the take by the Sea Lions.

The Sea Lions have a greater right to the salmon than fishermen, native or non-native because the Sea Lions were established in this area and feeding on salmon tens of thousands of years prior to any human settlement in the Americas.


The biggest salmon killer of all, the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.
Photo: Erwin Vermeulen

For those who think that the Sea Lions are invading the Columbia River basin, it may be worth noting that Lewis and Clark reported Sea Lions feeding on salmon far upstream at the foot of Celilo Falls along with the Black and Grizzly bears whose take is now non-existent.

I would argue that the right of a Sea Lion to catch a salmon should take precedence over any human take of salmon because Sea Lions have a prior claim and they are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They are also completely dependent upon fish for survival.

The established requirements for aboriginal whaling, fishing and sealing require two established facts. First, an unbroken tradition, and second, a subsistence necessity. The Sea Lions have an unbroken tradition of hunting salmon on the Columbia River and they have a subsistence need.

Why should nearly 500 Sea Lions be massacred so that humans can catch salmon for sport?

The argument that the salmon are endangered is negated by the fact that humans are allowed to fish for them. Under the Endangered Species Act fishing would be prohibited if in fact the salmon were listed as endangered.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is very concerned about the salmon and we advocate the prohibition of sport and commercial fishing in order to allow both the salmon and the Sea Lions to survive.

Killing the Sea Lions is not a solution. The vacuum created by the deaths of 500 Sea Lions will bring even more Sea Lions to the area because the Sea Lions established in the area have contested and won the ground to claim possession of the fish. Even younger Sea Lions will move in to contest the territory, which will lead to further demands for their slaughter.

There is not a single human being who will starve if denied fishing rights. The Sea Lions however have no alternative. Hunger drives them up the river and hunger drives them to risk the government death squad mobilized to destroy them.

All up and down the Pacific Coast humans have driven Sea Lions from their natural habitats. We harass them when they come ashore, we shoot them simply because they are hungry, we steal the food from their mouths in the sea and the rivers, and we flush our sewage and our chemical waste into their habitats and then we use them for scapegoats to give the illusion that the government is concerned about protecting the salmon.

What the bureaucrats are doing is not protecting salmon. What they are doing is whoring for votes at the behest of the politicians who want the fishermen’s vote.

Sea Lions Salmon

Sea Lions in a trap, potentially to be euthanized shortly after.

And to make matters even more bizarre is the fact that any attempt to interfere with the protection of the Sea Lions or to interfere with the traps will be considered an act of terrorism because of the proximity of the Bonneville Dam. Save a Sea Lion, go to Gitmo!

So the Sea Shepherd Dam Guardians are there to oppose the slaughter of the Sea Lions non-violently and legally. We are supporting the Humane Society of the United States in their legal challenge to the killing and we are there to focus international attention on this shameful scapegoating of a species that has every right to be where it is, doing what it is doing.

So to those who say they will no longer support us because we are defending Sea Lions, our position is that we do not need your support. We are not an organization that pretends to be all things to all people. Our support base may be human but our clients are marine species from the plankton to the great whales with no exceptions in between.

There is no amount of money that can deter us from a 100% allegiance to our clients in the sea.  We are not here to make people feel good. We exist to be effective and effectiveness means saving lives and defending biodiversity and the protection of marine habitats.

It also means taking unpopular stands, saying things that people may not like to hear and doing things that some people would rather we not do.

This may well be an unpopular stand with some people but the position of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is that we oppose the killing of Sea Lions by the United States government in the waters of the Columbia River.

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