The United States government approved the killing of hundreds to thousands of sea lions to protect salmon and steelhead, reported by the Associated Press (AP) for NBC News last December.

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In December 11 last year, the Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that the Congress has approved changes in the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which previously stated that it is illegal to hurt, harass or kill sea lions.

But the changes will strip these animals from that protection.

The House has officially approved and allowed the killing of at least 1,000 sea lions a year in order to protect the declining population of salmon at the Columbia River, the largest river in the Northwest.

Salmons – particularly the Chinook salmon, dropped extensively over the past years, which resulted to the declaration of Chinook salmon as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the US.

Meanwhile, sea lions have increased from 30,000 in the 1960s to a whopping 300,000 in 1972, reported in the NBC News. Because of this, the new legislation now requires the animals to be trapped and euthanized in a humane manner.

State officials are not the only ones allowed to kill sea lions, even tribal officials and contractors are also allowed to do so.

“It’s basically open season on sea lions now, whether they’re preying on endangered fish or not,” marine mammal scientist Naomi Rose from the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) told The Dodo in an interview.

Elizabeth Claire Alberts reported in The Dodo that Ryan Ososki, policy adviser for AWI, said in a statement that the sea lions are not the only ones to blame for the decrease in salmon population.

Ososki believes commercial fishing and construction of dams are also factors to look into.

(Photo by: Don Ryan/AP File)

“Sea lions did not construct these dams, yet the president has signed into law a bill blaming them for the declining salmon population. This is bad legislation; it totally ignores the human-caused impacts to these endangered salmons,” said Ososki in a statement.

However, there are still a lot of people supporting the new legislation – including fishing groups and the governors of Oregon, Idaho and Washington, according to AP.