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Report Examines Marine Mammal Predation on Endangered Salmon in Washington

(The Center Square) – What if the legal protection of marine mammals is actually hurting the Pacific Northwest salmon population? Could hunting seals and sea lions actually help the salmon population recover?

Those are questions a recent Washington State Academy of Sciences report attempts to answer.

The report, prepared by the academy for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, was recently discussed on the podcast “Save Family Farming” with Dillon Honcoop.

The report looks at “Pinniped Predation on Salmonids,” aka the entire family of mammals known as seals or sea lions and their impact on one of their main food sources, salmon.

“What we did was try to build a story and build the weight of evidence for what impact pinnipeds could be having on salmon recovery” said Daniel Schindler, University of Washington professor and one of the primary authors of the report.

A significant part of this story has to do with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, passed in 1972. Schindler referred to the legislation as “spectacularly successful” for what it was trying to accomplish.

“There are more marine mammal predators out there now than there has been in most of the last century” Schindler said. “To further complicate that, the other thing we acknowledge and recognize is that indigenous people hunted these things. It’s very possible that we’re seeing abundances of pinnipeds now that may actually be higher than they were 100 or 200 years ago.”

This increase in pinniped population is something Schindler says the current data shows with a high degree of certainty.

“The second piece of the story that has very little uncertainty associated with it, is that these predators eat salmon,” Schindler said. “You put those two things together, and what we also know with a lot of certainty is that the number of salmon eaten by these pinnipeds has increased dramatically over the last forty years. And it’s a really big number.”

The problem arises with drawing a direct causal link between those certainties and the decline in the pacific northwest salmon population. Schindler noted that those pinnipeds also eat other species that are predacious to salmon, especially in their early development. These other early salmon predators include cod and bottom feeding fish.

“If we’re talking about protecting salmon, there is no one thing.” said Honcoop.

“Absolutely,” agreed Professor Schindler. “There are no silver bullets with respect to salmon recovery in Washington.”

There are, however, many steps that the Washington state government has taken and is considering, including the demolition of four Lower Snake River dams. Could the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife be adding a Seal and Sea Lion season to the books soon?

Schindler acknowledged a request for comment by The Center Square but otherwise did not reply.

Timothy Schumann is a contributing writer for The Center Square.

Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.

For more on salmon issues, click here and here.

For more on Washington state policy issues, click here.

For more on the Endangered Species Act, click here.


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Timothy Schumann
Timothy Schumann
Timothy Schumann is a contributing writer to The Center Square.


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