WASHINGTON — Officials should be allowed to kill federally protected sea lions and seals as a last resort when the animals prey on a declining fish population such as salmon, a federal report to Congress says.
The report by the National Marine Fisheries Services says the rapidly growing populations of California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals on the West Coast are harming salmon stocks and other declining fish species.
"It's impossible to measure exactly how great an impact seal and sea lion predation is having on salmon," said William Stelle, the agency's Northwest region administrator.
But he added, "We do know that sound principles of wildlife management tell us that we should minimize the pressure being put on already badly diminished runs of these fish."
He said the report recommends that the agency apply a resource conservation principle "favoring the resource most in need of protection when information is uncertain."
Pacific harbor seals and California sea lions, whose numbers have grown dramatically, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The report recommends that Congress change the law to allow the closely managed killing of California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals when they repeatedly come into conflict with human activity or threaten certain fish populations that are in severe decline.