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Sea lions hinder salmon conservation

Marine animals ate nearly 6 percent of last year’s run

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Published: March 9, 2017, 8:46pm

California and Steller sea lions took a bigger bite out of last year’s salmon run than in any previous year, according to a new federal report.

2015 saw a bigger run, with more than 239,000 chinook and steelhead migrating past Bonneville Dam.

That year, the total number of salmon that sea lions ate was he largest ever recorded. The Army Corps of Engineers recorded more than 260 sea lions eating more than 10,000 fish from January to June 2015.

The 2016 salmon run was far smaller, but the sea lions’ appetite for salmon didn’t shrink much. They still ate more than 9,500 fish, nearly 6 percent of the run. That’s the largest share of the run eaten by the large marine mammals since Army Corps scientists started watching 15 years ago.

Corps officials acknowledge that the numbers of salmon eaten only reflect what scientists observed on the water’s surface at the foot of Bonneville Dam, and doesn’t include what sea lions eat at other parts of the river or underwater.

“Both California and Steller sea lions consume adult salmonids at the surface,” the Corps said. “However, our estimates should be considered as minimum estimates.”

Wildlife officers received federal authorization to kill California sea lions five years ago, an effort to restore declining salmon runs.

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