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Sea Lions on the Columbia

Sea lions on the shore near Bonneville Dam

Sea lions on the bank near Bonneville Dam

Unfortunately it has become the new normal for the return of spring chinook to also signal the return of sea lions to the Columbia River. They generally arrive at the beginning of March and stay through the end of May as they follow the spring chinook salmon migration.

CRITFC is an active partner with state and federal agencies in seeking ways to address this growing problem. The problem has complex causes and is complicated by requirements and protections the sea lions enjoy under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The MMPA forbids hunting or harrassing any marine mammals, which include whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, manatees, dugongs, sea otters, and polar bears within the waters of the United States. This is a very powerful federal law, but it does have certain allowances for fishers being impacted by them. These allowances are very limted, so probably the best policy is for fishers to steer clear of them and report any sitings of sea lions in Zone 6. Here are a few things to keep in mind in regards to this law:

Under the MMPA, it is illegal for people to “harass” any sea lion in the wild. Harassment is defined as any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has the potential to injure the animals or disturb their behavior.”

Anyone caught harassing individual animals can be arrested and charged with a felony.

Violations of the MMPA can result in maximum civil penalties of $12,000 and maximum criminal fines of up to $20,000 and jail time. The minimum penalty for a violation is $200.

—Source: NOAA Fisheries website.e

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