If you think America's criminal justice system for humans is bad, the system set up for sea lions is even worse. For sea lions, just eating too much can earn you the death penalty.

Of course, a lot depends on what the sea lions eat. If they stick to, say, cheese crackers and Hot Pockets, then the feds will leave them alone. But if they decide to start feasting upon endangered salmon that are swimming up the Columbia River to spawn, then the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will maybe try to get them "lethally removed." On friday, the NOAA gave Oregon and Washington officials permission to get rid of some sea lions who have been eating up the salmon in the Bonneville Dam—the second time they've approved killing hungry hungry sea lions. They don't like to do it, but making loud noises and shooting the sea lions with rubber bullets didn't work.

According to the Times, the states can "lethally remove" up to 85 sea lions per year—and only if they're "known" salmon eaters. Sea lions, start throwing your food journals away! Or cross out "salmon" and put "tacos."

Or call your enviro-friends? These would be the humans who say that harming and killing sea lions to save salmon is, well, maybe a flawed approach:

Sharon Young, marine mammal issues field director for the Humane Society, told Reuters the group was studying NOAA's order and may go back to court to challenge it again.

"Sea lion predation represents only 2.4 percent of the salmon run this year," Young said.

"This is shameful that they are distracting attention from real problems they could be addressing," she said. "This is one of the least important things they can to do address salmon recovery."

As it turns out, maybe the real problem facing salmon is not actually sea lions but other things:

There also is the steady pressure of human fishing - both in the river and in the offshore ocean. Spawning streams upriver are despoiled by such things as clear-cut logging. And, oh yes, sea lions feed on some salmon during the spring chinook run. The latter fact happens to be a minor one in the larger story. According to scientists, sea lions eat just 4 percent of the chinooks that pass Bonneville.


... a recent federal impact analysis concluded that the greatest challenges facing the fish are the survival of juveniles and harmful hatchery practices. Predation by sea lions was not listed as a key factor limiting the salmon's recovery.

Well, that's not surprising. Anyway, just imagine what would happen if this "eat too much fish and you die" law were enforced upon Human-Americans: The government would have to "lethally remove" almost everyone in the nation. Eating too much is what we do around here. Vegetarians would be okay, though.

[New York Times, Seattle Times]