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Editorial: Cormorants should be thinned

Corps plans deserve support

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Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012 10:22 am

It’s hard to look at a hummingbird and believe it is a descendent of dinosaurs. But double-crested cormorants look as though they could be direct survivors from the Jurassic Period. With close-cropped black feathers and a sort of hunched-shoulders demeanor, when they spread their wings to dry while perched on pilings, it’s easy to see their inner-pterodactyl.

As if their vaguely menacing appearance weren’t enough to make them lose popularity contests, cormorants’ dazzling skill at catching baby salmon has always placed them high on fishermen’s enemies list. Never more so than now. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finds they are eating 18 percent of ocean-bound juvenile salmon in the Columbia River.

This feast mostly happens within eyeshot of Astoria, Chinook and Ilwaco, Wash., with the cormorants of East Sand Island just south of Chinook consuming 20.5 million migrating young salmon last year alone, out of 150 million that arrive in the estuary still alive after making it through the dams.

Consumption by cormorants is on a sharp upward curve, having doubled in the past decade. In contrast, relocation efforts directed at the estuary’s Caspian terns are starting to have an effect. They ate 5 million young Columbia salmon last year, down from 6.5 million in 2008. Growing colonies of brown and white pelicans also are having an impact on salmon.

Unlike some other salmon predators – sea lions for example – cormorants are subject to relatively straightforward population-control efforts. The corps is conducting a public meeting from 5 to 8 tonight at the Holiday Inn Express, 204 W. Marine Drive, to discuss proposals that may begin to curb the local cormorant feeding frenzy.

Elsewhere in the U.S., outright culls of cormorant populations and more nuanced efforts to control reproduction have been modestly effective at keeping cormorant numbers in balance with the environment.

Particularly following prohibition of the pesticide DDT, cormorants have prospered. Unlike Columbia salmon, which are produced and nurtured at vast public expense, cormorants are at no risk whatsoever. Saved from hunters by their revolting taste, responsible government efforts to keep them from over-running the estuary would be welcome.

See http://tinyurl.com/ 9ycx3pr for the corps’ environmental impact statement on this issue.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • obmug posted at 9:16 pm on Sun, Nov 18, 2012.

    obmug Posts: 407

    I think it is a very slippery slope when and if the "rights" of a non-sentinent species and the concept of "murder" are used in more or less the same breath. Would the control - to the point of elimination in a certain area - of, say, rats and cockroaches be "murder"
    Sometimes I think one of the biggest problems we have is the Endangered Species Act - what good things it may have accomplished can easily be overcome by silly things done for no other reason than the law allows them to be done.

    Case in point (although hypothetical): If the cormorants and other birds are allowed to whittle the salmon population down to an unsurvivable level, won't the birds be next due to overpopulation and the lack of a food supply? Then we'd have neither species to worry about.

  • Jerry Flavel posted at 2:21 pm on Thu, Nov 15, 2012.

    Jerry Flavel Posts: 207

    SueS, the cormorant population has probably doubled every five to ten years here---when I was a kid they were few and far between and now it's easy to spot flying flocks of cormorants that number 40 to 60 birds flying up and down Youngs River Bay as well as just about everywhere on the lower river in the daylight--they never take a day off and the amount of baby salmon a bird will consume in it's life, if allowed to grow, would probably be greater than what a commercial fisherman would catch over a ten year period.The cormorants and Terns probably consume more salmon than all the other salmon eaters, including us, combined. Why go through the expense of hatching/raising fish if the birds are allowed to decimate them? Herdsmen take out coyotes and wolves that eat their stock, rodents are controlled to protect grain and other stored and in process of manufacture foodstuffs, to allow the continued predation on valuable fish stocks is not only expensive it's just not good sense to allow it to continue.

  • sues posted at 1:17 pm on Thu, Nov 15, 2012.

    sues Posts: 851

    Gee, Caspian terns, sea lions, cormorants...Where does it end? Too many people pounding down the last remaining salmon. Maybe things like multiple dams, agricultural runoff, habitat loss, water acidification ought to be addressed before we humans start outright slaughter of other species who have just as much right as we do to live here. And they're the scapegoats for the problems human greed and hubris have caused.

    Count me out on the murder game.

    Sue S