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Oregon legislature restores funding for hazing of California sea lions

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January 29, 2012

By Maresa Strano

Oregon

SALEM, Oregon: Presiding over daily fish counts at Willamette Falls fishway is one of the many duties assigned to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. A related duty -- specific to the fish division -- is to determine how and when to intervene with nature in the event that a protected fish population becomes threatened, or a potential threat is detected early through daily tracking methods.[1]

Back in 2010, the department identified a threat to federally listed chinook salmon and steelhead salmon living in Willamette Falls in the form of California sea lions. The appointed Oregon Director of Fish and Wildlife, Roy Elicker, spearheaded the appeal for supplemental state funding necessary to prevent a sea lion incursion into the Falls, where the salmon are bottled like sitting ducks. In 2011, the state reported around twenty sea lions visited the falls, on an estimated diet of four to seven fish each day. That year, the department was first granted money to act.[2]

The resulting hazing operation, which entails sending a boat crew to "deploy specially-designed fireworks from the Willamette Falls fish ladder and from a boat" in order to divert the predators away from areas where the salmon congregate, was mandated by the Oregon Legislature through passage of House Bill 3255.[3] The operation was put on hold for a year due to fiscal constraints, but the state legislature allocated $113,000 in this year's budget to pay for three months of concentrated hazing, beginning next week.[2]

"Our purpose is to try to protect the listed salmon and steelhead from sea lion predation...Through a variety of non-lethal hazing methods, we hope to scare the sea lions away from the fish ladders downstream," stated Tom Murtagh, the fish division biologist heading up the hazing project, in a Jan. 29 office press release.[3]

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