Each summer thousands of salmon can be seen shooting upstream at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon and into Washington state. Sea lions congregate there. They think of the salmon migration as a buffet.

Now sea lions are protected species, but salmon are endangered. And wildlife regulators don't want sea lions to gorge themselves on endangered salmon. Now, for a time, the National Marine Fisheries Service was authorized to shoot any sea lion with a salmon dangling from its mouth. A bill has recently been introduced in Congress to allow the killing to start again. Rob Manning has been following this story. He's a reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting and joins us from Portland.

Rob, thanks for being with us.

ROB MANNING: You're welcome.

SIMON: And fill us in on the history of the dispute if you can. It goes back a few years.

MANNING: Yes. Sea lions were first noticed coming up the Columbia River to eat salmon the early part of last decade. And it was in 2007 that they actually started doing active removal of the sea lions to protect the salmon population. It was challenged in court by the Humane Society of the United States. And they ultimately won. So right now it's not entirely on sound legal footing for the federal government and the states of Oregon and Washington to continue removing and killing sea lions.

SIMON: Have they methods other than killing the sea lions been tried?

MANNING: Yes. They've tried hazing, often using loud noises, sometimes things like fireworks, to scare them away from where the salmon are. But particularly with the hazing, there are sea lions who have come every year who know what the hazing is about, and they aren't scared by it anymore. So, you know, that isn't entirely successful either.

SIMON: Commercial fisherman and other people involved in the industry must have some interest in this.

MANNING: Certainly. And actually that fact that there are people actively catching salmon, removing them from the river, has been central to the court arguments. You know, the argument being, well, there are fishermen out there catching a lot of salmon. Why should we let them do it and turn around and kill sea lions for consuming salmon?

But there are millions, even billions, of dollars at stake, whether you're talking about the commercial or the sport fishing industry or all the money that the federal and state governments have poured into salmon recovery. In the middle of all this are sea lions, who are very publicly and obviously eating salmon, so it makes it a situation where certainly politicians want to take some action.

SIMON: Rob Manning, a reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Thanks so much.

MANNING: You're welcome.


SIMON: This is NPR News.

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