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.