Oregonians have long complained about Californians invading their state, driving up property values, crowding state parks, even trying to pump their own gas. Now there is a new threat: predators from California have invaded the Willamette River and are eating the salmon as they try to make their way up the river to spawn.
Blame Richard Nixon. The President signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. Since then the population of California sea lions has more than quadrupled, from around 70,000 to 300,000. Its cousin, the Steller sea lion, has increased its population from 30,000 to 70,000. By the late 1980s, sea lions were preying on fish runs at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. For years the invaders have been eating so many Columbia River salmon there has been debate about what to do with them – should their numbers be reduced by “euthanizing” some?
Biologists estimate that California sea lions ate at least 18 percent of returning adult steelhead through the first two months of this year. Adding insult to injury, about twenty-five California sea lions have made their home in the Willamette River near Portland. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife captured and transported three of them to the ocean near Newport. They swam the 230 miles back in less than four days.
Maybe they should be deported to Pier 39 at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, where the tourists think they’re cute. Or Sea Lion Caves near Florence Oregon where tourists pay money to climb down 250 stairs to watch them play. Then we could find out how much they really like Salmon.