by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Dennis Richey is an avid supporter of fisheries and anglers with prized fish replica mounted on one wall of his home.A longtime West Linn resident is known for his passionate protection of threatened and endangered fish, taking on leadership roles in state and federal groups.

Dennis “Denny” Richey, who came to West Linn in 1993, said large California and Steller sea lions are major predators of threatened and endangered fish in the area. Richey is an appointed member of the federal Pinniped/Fishery Interaction Task Force, which helps assess and guide sea lion removal efforts.

Schools of chinook, steelhead and other little swimmers waiting their turn to gradually jump up fish ladders on the Bonneville Dam spanning the Columbia River are in a vulnerable position. Hungry sea lions often capitalize on the situation, said Richey, 68, the co-founder and executive director of Oregon Anglers.

“The work with the predation is to help the species that are threatened, to help the fish recover,” he said. “We want to help the fisheries recover and to help the economy.”

California and Steller sea lions also are difficult to dissuade from snatching Willamette River anglers’ catches right out of the net with adult male Stellers weighing up to 2,400 pounds and some California males exceeding 1,000 pounds. Many of the local sea lions are males, nonbreeding males who failed to win a harem, said Richey, also executive director of Oregon Anglers Research Society.

“There’s a whole lot of misinformation about these sea lions,” said Richey, who participated in Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fishing Regulation Board in 2006. “They are dangerous. They are not pets. We’ve had a number of fishermen who have almost been drug out of their boats by them. There have been disappearances of fishermen fishing out in the Columbia, three or four of them that I know of.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - A hungry sea lion hopes to catch some dinner.Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials for years have hazed the animals, shooting off firecrackers and firing rubber bullets, to encourage the sea lions to leave. But, the large, gregarious marine mammal with the skull of a bear isn’t easily scared off. The big guys often return — when the coast is clear. Plus, though sea lions can live for two or three decades, about 40 percent of male sea lions are stricken with the herpes virus, which can lead to cancer, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA-Fisheries, a federal agency, is responsible for managing marine mammals. Once caught, sick sea lions often are put down.

“Euthanizing is not our first option: Finding them a new home is our first option,” Richey said. “We find new homes for them if they are healthy — marine zoos and aquatic parks.”

To complicate matters, some types of Stellers are protected by federal law and some are not. The California sea lion is not endangered.

Stellers mostly congregate in the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands, and California sea lions are native to North America. Both enjoy sunbathing on the California and Oregon coasts, according to NOAA.

The Humane Society of the United States and Wild Fish Conservancy has levied lawsuits to halt the killing of the sea lions.

“Federal law allows the killing of sea lions only in very limited circumstances, when the agency proves they are having a significant negative impact on salmon,” said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation for HSUS.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - A sea lion enjoys a meal of salmon.Predatory sea lions are significantly decreasing the fish population at Bonneville Dam, according to the 2013 Pinniped Research and Management Activities at Bonneville Sam, done by experts from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Pinnipeds include earless seals, fur seals, sea lions and walruses.

“Salmonid predation at the dam by California sea lions increased from near zero before 2001, to an estimated high of 5,481 fish in 2010, declining to an estimated 1,077 fish in 2012,” the report sates.

Salmonids include salmon, trout and chars.

The report also says that: “While Steller sea lions initially appeared to forage primarily on white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus), in recent years they have consumed increasing numbers of salmonids. In 2012 the number of sturgeon and salmonids consumed by Steller sea lions was estimated to be at least 2,498 and 1,305, respectively.”

“He’s passionate about what he’s doing; he’s just very involved. ... He’s a great dad and a great grandpa,” Marie Richey said.

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