Legislation that would make killing sea lions in the Pacific Northwest easier passed Congress Tuesday and is waiting for President Donald Trump’s approval, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reports.
Sea lions in Washington and Oregon are feeding on endangered salmon and steelhead trout and risk wiping them out of the area completely. Wildlife officials in the state are pushing to relax federal protections on sea lions to allow some hunting and manage the predators’ population.
The bill loosens restrictions on killing sea lions under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. It allows wildlife officials to approve the hunting of up to 100 sea lions annually.
“I suspect many would wish the times were different and this legislation wasn’t necessary,” Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission executive director Jaime Pinkham told OPB. “But the reality is that this legislation has become necessary.”
Critics of the bill say the sea lion population is being unjustly blamed for the failure of wildlife officials to properly manage and protect the endangered fish, OPB reports.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife requested Congress let it kill or remove up to 92 sea lions annually in June. Wildlife officials have known about the problem for roughly a decade and believe that the steelhead has a 90 percent chance of extinction if nothing is done.
The sea lion population has recovered from a low of about 10,000 in the 1950s to roughly 300,000 now. The species is at its “carrying capacity,” or nearing the upper limit of what its habitat can sustainably support, according to Washington wildlife officials.