Is the sea lion hazing program going to occur this year in the Rogue River bay?

Is the sea lion hazing program going to occur this year in the Rogue River bay?

— Steve N., Eagle Point

The annual hazing of sea lions that try to steal salmon off the hooks of anglers in the Lower Rogue River bay began as scheduled July 1 and will run through the fall chinook fishing season there, much to the delight of bay anglers.

The program, which began as an experiment in 2006, is in its eighth year under federal permits.

Under the program, a hazer cruises the bay in search of sea lions or responds to radio calls from anglers who report sea lions hovering around their boats. The hazer motors over, and that alone usually scares the sea lions away, because most of them have already figured out the game.

Those that don't flee get a "seal bomb" firecracker tossed into the water near them. That usually sends them back to sea, all but flipping their middle fin at the hazer as they go, Steve.

Before the hazing program began, sea lions in the bay seemed to have stopped chasing chinook salmon or coho salmon, instead waiting for an angler to hook one and get it to the boat, where it's easy pickings for them.

By some accounts, before the hazing program began, sea lions intercepted 50 percent to 70 percent of the chinook hooked during the bay's fall chinook season. Now anglers report losing only a fraction of that to the big sea lions.

The program is paid for largely through a local angling association and is operated through the Port of Gold Beach. The federal permit allowing the program runs through December, but the hazer sticks around until the bay fishery ends, which is usually in October.

The hazing occurs while threatened wild coho salmon are in the bay, and no wild coho have been reported harmed by the hazing, says Todd Confer, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Gold Beach District fish biologist.

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