A Paradox Wrapped In A Conundrum

We almost always side with the animals. But sometimes there are no easy answers. Just puzzles.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX. Harbor seals hauled out at low tide on the Nisqually River on October 10, 2022.

In this case, for what it is worth, our support is with the humans:

Seals and sea lions vex Washington tribes as Marine Mammal Protection Act turns 50

50 years ago, President Nixon signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act into law. The act has been hugely successful in restoring the abundance of the marine species it protects. But some say it’s too successful.

Tribes in particular say their treaty rights to fishing are under threat because now, too many seals and sea lions are feasting on endangered salmon.

Not far from the banks of the Puyallup River near Tacoma, tribal elder Ramona Bennett sits outside her house, lamenting the state of the salmon runs in her home waterway. The recent dumping of Astroturf into the Puyallup by a dam operator is top of mind.

But there’s something else that’s bothering her: a class of animals that for fifty years have enjoyed more protection under U.S. law than almost anything else.

“One seal will tear the bellies out of 40 salmon, in a day — just the bellies– just eat the belly,” Bennett said. “And they’re terrible. They’re like packs of wild sea dogs. And then those sea lions, I call them sea buffaloes.”

She said they compete with tribal fishermen for increasingly scarce salmon. And their numbers have only grown under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits hunting and anything else that might harm them.

And they were all on our menus. We used to trade them and harvest them, eat them, sell their meat,” she said.

pioneering activist who went on to become chairwoman of the Puyallup Tribe, Bennett wants to revive a tribal hunt, to harvest seals and sea lions on at least eight local rivers. She said they should throw a big public feast with other tribes, even though that would be illegal.

”And let them arrest us,” she said. “We’ll never resolve this through legislation, it’ll have to be through litigation, which is clearer and quicker.”  

Bennett’s vision for a rebellious feast has not yet been realized, but she has lots of allies.

This year the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission published a column, calling seals and sea lions invasive species allowed to go out of control under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. During the four decades from 1975 to 2015, harbor seal numbers in the Salish Sea increased from 5,900 to 47,000 and California sea lions’ numbers rose as high as 300,000 on the west coast of the U.S., the column notes.

The NWIFC represents more than 20 tribes who say their treaty rights to fish are being undermined – by the conservation success of this law…

Read the whole article here.

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