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Federal officials on Friday approved the killing of more than 700 California and Steller sea lions along the Columbia River over the next five years in an effort to save endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead trout, according to reports.

The controversial “lethal control” program opens nearly 200 miles of the river to several tribes and government fish managers in Washington, Idaho and Oregon, according to Q13 FOX in Seattle.

In 2018, Congress approved a change to the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act that allows the killing of sea lions eating threatened fish, but the National Marine Fisheries Service still needed to approve a permit.

Previously, only California sea lions could be killed if it was proven the animal had repeatedly targeted threatened fish.

Sea lions can eat up to 44% of the river’s spring Chinook salmon run, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

Of the more than 22,000 public comments the government received over the permit application almost none of them were in favor of killing the sea lions, Q13 FOX reported.

“Killing sea lions is like putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage, it’s not going to stop what’s causing the bleeding,” Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The Humane Society, said, according to Q13. “If you don’t address the real root of your problem, addressing something else that makes it look like you’re doing something just makes it look like you’re doing something, but you’re not taking any meaningful action.”

Kessina Lee, Southwest regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, voted for the department’s application to kill the sea lions. “To do all of the other things we’re doing with regard to habitat and hydropower and fisheries management and to not address predation in a meaningful way is really leaving out such a huge piece of the puzzle for salmon recovery that we do have to address it,” she said.

Most of the sea lions will be given a lethal injection, according to Q13 FOX.

Doug Hatch, a Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s Senior Fisheries scientist, said he believes the sea lion killings will be far below the limit since only about 100 sea lions are usually in the area, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

He said other methods like relocating the sea lions have been tried in the past.

“So you’re not impacting the population growth of one species and we are going to enhance the population growth of another species that is at far more risk,” Hatch said.

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