State Wildlife Commissioners heard testimony Friday about whether a sail and sea lion scrap could help save salmon and thereby restore food to starving southern resident puppies (SRKW).
Pinnipeds in Puget Sounds that seal and sea lions compete for food with the extinction-threatened SRKW. They love all salmon.
Although Chinook's salmon is only 1-2 percent of a ham seal diet, the orcas almost completely chinook salmon, which also disappears.
"It's important to set the stage this occurs in a very complex ecosystem and it's a very complex food web," said WDFW Research Scientist Scott Pearson.
State Wildlife Commissioners learned how complicated a food web Puget Sound really is and how to kill seals and sea lions can affect the food web. Seals and sea lions consume more Chinook salmon than killer whales and all fishing.
Researchers estimate that sales are consumed everywhere between 5.2 and 26.8 million juvenile Chinook in 2016, a wide range. A single seal can eat around 1.4 million juvenile Chinook per month, they report. The best estimate that researchers acknowledge may be wrong is that there are about 19,000 seals competing for food in the Puget Sound area.
"If you want a 25 percent reduction in total juvenile Chinook consumption through seals, we must reduce this number of 19,000 seals down to 14,300. If you subtract this number from this number, then there are so many we have to remove 4 700 seals, and we must annually remove 530 seals per year to keep it at that level, "says Pearson.
But the problem is that salmon is also facing a number of other challenges, including hydropower, hatcheries, habitats, diseases and pollutants. Researchers told commissioners that they do not know if killing seals and sea lions will do anything at all. They discussed the example of hake, a fish that also tastes salmon. If there were fewer seals and sea lions eating hake, hake would eat more salmon, creative negative unintended consequences?
"In my opinion, even if seal consumption was somehow reduced or eliminated, there is no guarantee of a response to salmon in terms of returning adults," said WDFW Research Researcher Joe Anderson.
Recently, a dozen sea lions have flushed, shot and killed illegally. In order for legal death to occur, the federal government would have to approve it and it may take a long time. Before that happens, Anderson and Pearson say they want more information, like how many seals and sea lions are exactly in Puget Sound, where are the heat, when do they eat the most salmon, and if there were less seals and sea lions, would any other predators eat salmon?
Pinnipeds are regulated by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and researchers say there are three ways to get around. The state may apply for cancellation and obtain permission that they may request that the managing authority be returned to the state or they may use existing MMPA clauses that allow for the abolition of authority.
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