The presence of sea lions - the grizzly bears of the lower Columbia River - at Bonneville Dam quickly faded from novelty to nuisance when these animals started climbing the fish ladder earlier this month.

When combined with news that this year's spring salmon run has plummeted to a historic low, the presence of these California sea lions is worrisome to sport and tribal anglers. A federal study reported sea lions immediately downstream of Bonneville Dam killed an estimated 2 percent of the upper Columbia River spring chinook salmon run in 2004.

By all accounts, the number of the sea lions is getting out of control. Observers counted 31 California sea lions in 2002, but the tally jumped to 111 in 2003 and 105 in 2004.

These critters have warn out their welcome.

Through a combination of fireworks bombardment, high-pressure water hoses and irritating sounds broadcast underwater, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in cahoots with state and federal fish authorities, plans to send a not-so-gentle message to these sea lions to keep there distance from the fish ladder.

Authorities say this tactics have worked elsewhere. Let's hope it works at Bonneville, too.

Beyond these measures, nothing is planned to deal with the sea lions that migrate the 140 miles from the Pacific Ocean upriver to Bonneville.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, it's a federal crime to injure or kill a sea lion. So shooting nuisance animals is out of the question. Trapping and relocating sea lions is a possibility, but that's somewhere down the list of options.

Meanwhile, sea lions are free to dine on spring salmon in the Columbia River, so long as they do it out of ear shot of the Bonneville fish ladder.

The spring salmon run, which until this year's collapse, had been a success story for state and tribal fish authorities, who have spent millions of public dollars over the years to restore the run.

While a portion of the spring run is native, the vast number of returning adult spring chinook were reared in hatcheries.

Watching sea lions dine on those salmon was cute at first, even tolerable to a degree, until they started arriving in larger and larger numbers.

If the hazing tactics don't work, fish authorities must act quickly to move trap-and-transport to a more prominent position on their list of options.

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