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Commentary

Killing Sea Lions Won’t Balance Nature or the Budget



According to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, sea lions are thriving in record numbers. These playful animals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and fishermen have been fined and jailed for killing them. On the other hand, for many years NOAA and state governments have been killing sea lions as part of official policy.

In Oregon and Washington, government wildlife managers are allowed to kill up to 93 sea lions trapped each year at Bonneville Dam. In the past decade, 168 were “euthanized” but that is misnomer. These were not sick or wounded animals about to pass away and put out of their misery for humanitarian reasons. They were healthy wildlife that government officials killed for the crime of eating more fish, their natural diet, than government biologists thought they should consume.

California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) can stretch more than six feet, weigh 700 pounds, and pack a hefty appetite. According to NOAA, the federal agency authorized the request of three states to “lethally remove” sea lions that “continue to eat salmon after deterrence methods have proven unsuccessful.”

In 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco halted the program of the National Marine Fisheries Service that kills federally protected sea lions at Bonneville Dam. According to the court, the agency did not show the killing of sea lions to be consistent with the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

That year, Mr. Larry Legans spent 30 days in jail and paid $51,000 fine for shooting a sea lion that was raiding his catch of fish on the Sacramento River. Other fisherman on the California coast have drawn steep fines, which can be imposed even for harassment of the massive mammals.

In 2016, NOAA authorized Oregon, Washington and Idaho to continue the “lethal removal” of sea lions until 2021. Residents have good cause to find that troubling.

Here government is conducting the same activity—killing sea lions—for which it prosecutes private citizens, an obvious and unacceptable double standard. Government prefers to euphemize this deadly activity and seems to have confused science with hubris, or even prophecy.

The mission of NOAA is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.” In that cause, NOAA, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, deploys some 12,000 personnel worldwide, including 6773 engineers, but that’s not the only the part of NOAA taxpayers should understand.

NOAA’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 is $4,562,711,000, and this supports “the broad Administration goals of promoting national security, public safety, economic growth, and job creation.” How this nearly $5 billion federal bureaucracy does all that remains uncertain, but its campaign of killing sea lions is a bust.

In similar style, the U.S. Forest Service kills beavers for building dams, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service targets barred owls for the crime of showing up near spotted owls. By now the lessons should be clear.

Bureaucrats can’t balance nature, and as massive debt and deficits confirm, government also has difficulty balancing a budget. So perhaps it is no accident that Earth Day and the deadline for filing tax returns occur only days apart.


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent Briefing, Cross-Currents in California Water: A Case Study of Bureaucracy Versus Tradable, Private Water Rights.






  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org