By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Last month, Washington, Oregon and Idaho state agencies applied for federal permission to kill sea lions that eat endangered salmon from the Columbia and Snake rivers.
In Gold Beach, Ore., last summer, community members used underwater firecrackers to scare off the marine mammals that snag salmon from fishermen's lines and lounge on boats and docks at the mouth of the Rogue River.
No similar steps have followed in northwest California, although one area fishing group will consider options during a February meeting.
"It will certainly be a subject," said Humboldt County supervisor Jimmy Smith, chairman of the Management Zone Fisheries Coalition, a group of mostly ocean recreational fishermen who target salmon from the Klamath River and its tributaries.
In October, the coalition discussed possible pinniped control measures, noting that the Rogue River program could work at the mouth of the Klamath River.
The California Department of Fish and Game has not pursued pinniped control steps. But marine biologist John Mello takes complaints from fishermen.
"Certain animals will follow the boats and it can be a lot of trouble," Mello said.
Small groups of sea lions that visit communities cause trouble by leaving waste on docks, climbing aboard boats, sinking smaller vessels with their weight.
"They're a real nuisance," said Crescent City harbormaster Richard Young. "But they're also a resident of the coast."
The harbor builds docks to keep the creatures off of walkways and boats. A couple of years ago, the harbor copied a Eureka effort that posted a blow-up killer whale to scare them off. They got used to it and returned.
"They're way too aggressive and it should be open season," said Branten Bottom, a salmon and crab fisherman who has worked along the west coast for 16 years.
Not all visitors agree.
"The tourists love em," Young said.
The pinnipeds cause some problems in local waters for people, said Lanni Hall, director of the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center.
"There are sea lions that love to steal off lines. It's fast food," Hall said, noting complaints from fishermen on the Smith River. "Where you have salmon, you have sea lions."
Hall's concerns with hazing projects focus on people mistaking the more assertive California sea lion with the Steller sea lion, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. And Crescent City's open harbor does not foster the same problems as the mouth of the Rogue River in Oregon, where fish and sea lions congregate.
Garth Griffin, a marine biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service out Portland, Ore., points to the Rogue River hazing project as a model where community and business members joined to fund and enact the scare tactics.
But that effort fails to cull the large population as killing would, said Chuck Blackburn, a member of the Management Zone Fisheries Coalition and a Del Norte County Supervisor.
"Hazing may help. It's not the solution," said Blackburn, a former fishing guide who has seen the animals swim miles up the Klamath and Smith rivers. "The populations have increased tremendously."
The California sea lion population has grown to about 300,000 and remains federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. That act was due for reauthorization in 1994.
"Things have changed, you know, it's 30 years later now. Possibly, they don't need that protection," said Joe Cordaro, a wildlife biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service out of Long Beach, Calif. "It's a tough juggling act."