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TRIBE HOPES TO GIVE SEA LIONS NEW PLACE ON THE FOOD CHAIN

SHARE TRIBE HOPES TO GIVE SEA LIONS NEW PLACE ON THE FOOD CHAIN

The steelhead-munching sea lions at Seattle's Ballard Locks soon may have a new place on the food chain. Instead of eating, they may be eaten.

Members of the Muckleshoot Indian tribe said this week that they're working on regulations that would allow tribal members to "harvest" the sea lions."It is something that will take place," said Phil Hamilton, a member of the Tribal Fisheries Commission.

Hamilton said helping restore the natural balance between sea lions and fish, so the latter are not driven to extinction, "is our responsibility."

It is pointless for the tribe to continue trying to improve fish habitats upstream if the sea lions keep the fish from getting there, he said.

"Our record as a tribe is that we've been responsible managers of our resources," Hamilton said.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission supports the Muckle-shoot plan, said Terry Wright, the commission's enhancement services manager and chairman of a citizens group that recently studied the sea lion problem.

"In this particular case, we think (sea lion harvesting) should have been done a long time ago," Wright said.

Wright said Congress this year passed legislation affirming that the federal sea lion protection laws can't usurp traditional Indian treaty rights to hunt marine mammals.

Hamilton wouldn't disclose how the sea lions would be harvested, when or where.

But Mike Mahlovich, a tribal fisheries staff member, said he expected the sea lions would be harvested year-around at a number of locations around Seattle's Elliott Bay, "because it's not just a Ballard Locks problem."

While a sea lion at the locks in the fall may eat a dozen or so adult steelhead a day, a sea lion in the nearby Duwamish River in the spring must eat about 1,500 young fish a day to survive, Mahlovich said.

For centuries, Hamilton said, the Muckleshoots caught sea lions for their meat, hides and other parts. "There are so many ceremonial purposes, even the teeth and whiskers are used," he said.

Because of toxins in the environment, the meat will be tested for safety before it is eaten, Mahlovich said.