‘Like rooting for the Yankees’: Lawmaker’s move to study sea lion predation removed from state’s final budget


Funding for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to combat sea lion predation on the lower Columbia River and its tributaries was removed from the state’s operating budget during final negotiations, Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, announced Friday.

In a Friday news release, Wilson, who introduced the amendment, compared protecting the state’s sea lion population to “rooting for the New York Yankees.” The region loses about 12% of its salmon to predation, a percentage that has doubled since 2006.

“I was told they couldn’t bear the thought of euthanizing sea lions,” Wilson said. “With all due respect, I think my colleagues need to be educated about this threat to our struggling salmon and steelhead runs. Taking the side of the sea lions is a little like rooting for the New York Yankees.”

Last year, sea lions were spotted further up the Cowlitz River than ever before, and Wilson said since that time, he’s worked with fisheries officials, sportsmen’s organizations and other organizations to develop a plan of attack.

As previously reported by The Chronicle, sea lions made it to the Barrier Dam in Salkum on the Cowlitz River, a tributary of the Columbia River, in April 2023, and it wasn’t the first time.

Historically, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) management of the creatures has meant conservation under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which it reports has helped grow the California sea lion population steadily since 1975. An NOAA official last year referred to this growth in both seal and sea lion populations as “an overabundance.”

In the Columbia Basin alone, the population has increased from fewer than 500 to more than 4,000 animals in the last decade, NOAA reports. At the same time, salmon in the basin have become increasingly endangered.

The $1.5 million would have funded the equipment to capture sea lions on shallower tributaries such as the Cowlitz River.

“If we don’t get predation under control, we are going to see a complete wipeout of some fish stocks, as happened at the Ballard Locks 30 years ago,” Wilson said. “The lesson is that when sea lions congregate, fisheries agencies must be able to act — or else our fish runs become an all-you-can-eat buffet.”