Can Government Balance Nature by Killing Sea Lions?

Can Government Balance Nature by Killing Sea Lions?

SACRAMENTO – California sea lions sometimes swim some 90 miles up the Sacramento River, passing the state capitol on their journey. A local fisherman, Mr. Larry Legans, has been accused of shooting a sea lion for consuming the fish he caught. Mr. Legans, who faces three years in prison and $70,000 in fines, must be rather puzzled to see government agents killing sea lions, for the crime of eating fish.

In early March, officials with Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife captured a sea lion at Bonneville Dam and killed the animal by lethal injection. The Oregonian reported that the sea lion was “eligible” for death, because it was “repeatedly spotted eating salmon.” Somehow, government officials have determined a quota for a sea lion’s salmon intake, and this one’s stomach got the best of him. This was not the first government execution of a sea lion for this crime.

Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife is working with the state of Washington and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to target sea lions they believe are eating too much salmon. In fact, NOAA has approved a hit-list of 64 sea lions, creatures of considerable substance. This is not a snail darter or delta smelt.

The male Zalophus californianus can reach lengths of more than seven feet and weigh in the neighborhood of 700 pounds. They are playful, intelligent animals and live more than 20 years. According to the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, the species is “protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended.” (See

That protection seems to have been lifted, and legislators might want to look into it. Last year, government biologists bumped off 11 California sea lions caught chowing down on salmon near the fish ladders on the Columbia River.

The NOAA website also notes that “California sea lions are sometimes viewed as a nuisance by commercial fishermen and there are records of stranded sea lions with gunshot wounds and other human-caused injuries.” That is the center of the complaint against Mr. Legans, currently awaiting a hearing.

The sea lion Mr. Legans is alleged to have shot has been dubbed “Sgt. Nevis,” after an animal control officer. Sgt. Nevis is recovering from his wounds and frolicking at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California. No such luck for the sea lions on the official hit-list.

Besides the 11 killed last year, officials transferred four others to zoos and aquariums, but this year, according to news reports, no such institution wanted live sea lions. So government officials will kill them, with impunity, and “killing” is the right word.

In this case, “euthanizing” is a euphemism. The sea lions on the official hit-list are not sick or wounded animals about to pass away and put out of their misery for humanitarian reasons. They are healthy animals in the wild and government officials are killing them for the crime of eating more fish than biologists think they should eat. The lessons should be apparent.

Here government is conducting the same activity for which it prosecutes private citizens, an obvious and unacceptable double standard. Government tries to call the activity something it is not, and in its presumption of superior knowledge only confirms its ineptitude.

As massive federal and state deficits confirm, government has great difficulty balancing a checkbook. The sea lion killings are evidence that government can’t balance nature either.

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