Captain Ron Malast's article in the Feb. 10 edition of the Observer was an excellent overview of the out of control predations of salmon and other species in the Columbia River by the ballooning population of seals and sea lions. The problem is not limited to the Columbia, but it is much worse there than I have experienced fishing anywhere else. When fishing the Buoy 10 fishery last September, the regulations required the release of "native" salmon with their adipose fin intact, keeping only those that had their adipose fin clipped, identifying it as a hatchery fish.
That regulation is intended to protect the native fish so they can proceed to their spawning area, perhaps a good intended rule if it were not for the multitude of seals and sea lions waiting for their lunch. In almost every instance, after carefully removing the hook and then releasing the fish, it was immediately taken by a seal or sea lion.
With the expenditures of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars trying to restore the endangered salmon runs to the Columbia River it makes absolutely no sense to continue to protect the exploding population of seals and sea lions. With an estimated 300,000 sea lions in Pacific Coastal waters they are far beyond being "endangered" and protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act, enacted in 1972. Sen. Magnuson of Washington state, who was instrumental in the passage of this Act, was responding to the public furor in Washington of the highly publicized capturing of Orca whales in the San Juan Island's area for shipment to various water parks around the country. The act was well intended and has probably been successful in protecting many endangered species but it's obvious to anyone observing the situation on the Columbia River that there is absolutely no reason why the seals and sea lions should continue to be protected under the Marine Mammals Act.
While the situation on the Columbia is most acute, the growing population of both seals and sea lions in Puget Sound is an increasing problem. I grew up in Ballard in the 1930s and spent a lot of time on the water. I had not seen a sea lion until a trip down the Oregon Coast after WWII and a visit to the Sea Lion Caves. Now, they are becoming a growing problem in the sound.
Unless action is taken to address the over-population problem, the billions of dollars that have been spent to try and restore the native fishery will have been wasted, and many folks and communities will suffer the economic consequences.