Over the objections of the California Coastal Commission and local fishing officials, the National Marine Fisheries Service has trucked three Washington state sea lions to waters off the Ventura County coastline.
Three of the mammals were deposited in the ocean near Ventura Harbor by fisheries officials late last week. The transfer was done in hopes of reducing the sea lions' take of already decimated steelhead trout populations around Ballard Locks in Washington's Puget Sound.
Fisheries service officials cited their "administrative authority" to move up to 10 of the fish-eating animals to Southern California, despite the Coastal Commission's rejection in February of a request to transfer up to 60 sea lions.
"Given the severe decline of the steelhead population and how efficient sea lions are as predators, we had to do what we could," said Hal Alabaster, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent agency of the fisheries service.
But James R. Raives, a Coastal Commission analyst, said Washington officials are just transferring their problem to Southern California.
"There's a strong possibility that such a relocation won't work anyway," Raives said. "At best, it's just a temporary fix for them. It really is not addressing the real issue of how they are dealing with their steelhead populations."
Local fishing industry officials have argued against the transfer, saying the aggressive sea mammals can thwart fishing operations by helping themselves to catches of halibut and sea bass, often directly from fishing nets.