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News / Sports / Clark County Sports

Sea lions now a year-round issue in Columbia

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter
Published: October 21, 2015, 4:12pm

Blaine Castrey of Vancouver is self-employed, often working seven days a week. When he gets a chance to go salmon fishing in the Columbia River, well, it’s a special day.

Castrey was fishing in late September off Bachelor Island with former guide Rick Graser of Ephrata, Wash., and Ira Farra of Battle Ground.

He hooked a nice fall chinook, then had his excitement snuffed when a sea lion grabbed his salmon. About 90 minutes later, the same sea lion took a second chinook off Castrey’s line.

“I was upset,’ Castrey said, about the first chinook. “It was big fish and all of a sudden there’s a big tug and a sea lions surfaces…I thought ‘live and learn, it’s not going to happen to me again.’’’

Then it did.

“All I get are two heads back,’’ he said.

Losing a salmon to a sea lion is not an isolated event in the lower Columbia.

“It’s the fifth salmon lost (to marine mammals) in my boat this year,’’ said Graser, a former Clark County resident who lives several months of the year near the Cowlitz River.

“Marine mammals are not just a problem in the spring,’’ Graser said. “They’re taking summer steelhead, fall chinook. They are in the Columbia year-round now.

“NOAA Fisheries says they leave and come back the next spring. NOAA needs to get out and see what’s going on.’’

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U.S. Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, and Rep. Kurt Schrader, an Oregon Democrat, introduced legislation in January that would authorize state fisheries and Columbia River tribal officials to use lethal force to remove sea lions preying on endangered salmon or sturgeon.

“Significant resources are spent making sure they (fish) survive and can continue to support recreational, cultural and economic interests,’’ Herrera Beutler said in a January news release. “However this is money wasted if we fail to responsibly manage the sea lion population that is devastating their numbers.’’

The measure had a hearing in July before the Water, Power and Oceans subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Heath Heikkila of the Coastal Conservation Association noted that predecessors of Herrera Beutler’s bill were introduced by former Rep. Doc Hastings, a Tri-Cities Republican. They passed the House only to die in the Senate.

“I sense progress,’’ said Heikkila. “The sheer number of sea lions has made it get some attention in the Senate. The Northwest has four Democrats in the Senate. We need a Democrat in the Senate to help.’’

Heikkila said he has talked with Senate staff members who realize sea lions have become a problem.

“We need people to get fired up and contact their U.S. senators,’’he said “It’s a pure Washington and Oregon issue and our senators need to help on it. I do think it has a better chance than the previous two or three bills. The tribes have been good partners on it.’’

Efforts to get a response from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., regarding marine mammal management in the Columbia, were not received by deadline.

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Columbian Outdoors Reporter