Sea lions are known to turn up in fishing nets, hunting everything from herring to salmon, and now a B.C. group is calling for thousands of seals and sea lions, known as pinnipeds, to be killed.

“So there’s definitely going to be a lot of protection of the salmon by harvesting, not all of them but a good percentage of the population of seals and sea lions,” said Thomas Sewid, Vice-President of the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society.

And now the United States government has given the green light to just that. It has eased protections on California and stellar sea lions so up to 920 can be killed each year.

The cull can only take place on sections of the Columbia and Willamette rivers and their tributaries, where sea lions are known to feast on salmon and steelhead trying to move up fish ladders.

“They actually have really specific evidence at a specific location that the presence in this case of sea lions is undermining the recovery of a specific run,” said Raincoast Conservation Foundation Biologist Misty MacDuffee.

But MacDuffee says B.C. doesn’t have the same research available here and she says plans for a general harvest of sea lions could actually hurt salmon stocks.

“Seals and sea lions actually eat the predators of salmon more than they eat the salmon themselves, so the cull could actually have the unwanted effects of destabilizing these really complex food webs,” said MacDuffee.

Sewid says the U.S. cull doesn’t go far enough to have a real impact on salmon numbers. His group wants to harvest thousands and to have permission to sell sea lion products.

“So your hides, your oils derived from the blubber which has omega 3 fatty acids which is used in pharmaceutical industry, the meat for pet food right to high-end restaurants,” Sewid said.

The Pinniped Society has a meeting with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans next week.

April Lawrence