Imperiled Oregon steelhead runs appear to be making a comeback thanks to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife program that kills sea lions that eat them.
The Statesman Journal first reported the announcement on the fish population's recovery.
The department says the native fish species was nearly extinct before the agency began killing sea lions. Now, over 2,400 steelhead have migrated past Willamette Falls—the highest count since 2016 and up significantly from 2017, when 822 steelhead were counted.
ODFW got permission to kill California sea lions last November, after reporting that the animals were eating 25 percent of the steelhead crossing over Willamette Falls. So far, ODFW has killed 11 sea lions.
But, it says in a release, "Unfortunately, the respite was short-lived, as more California sea lions have since moved into the area."
Efforts to eradicate predators of endangered species have a fraught recent track record in Oregon.
Between 2015 and 2017, the federal government killed thousands of double-crested cormorants on the Columbia River in an attempt to save young salmon. The birds just moved upriver, and started eating three times as many salmon.
Still, ODFW writes in a statement: "There has been an unprecedented effort among Northwest states, federal agencies, tribes, and private citizens to protect and recover salmon and steelhead."
"If predation by sea lions at these environmental pinch points is not addressed there is a high risk that these investments will fail and additional fish runs will be extirpated."