With hundreds of thousands of young salmon now making their way toward the ocean, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is ramping up efforts to make sure they get there and aren’t picked off by hungry birds along the way.

For the next month and a half, volunteers assisting ODFW staff will haze cormorants in several coastal estuaries to keep them from feasting on salmon smolts as the young fish make their way to the Pacific Ocean.

Cormorants are large seabirds that inhabit Oregon’s estuaries during the spring and summer. They are voracious eaters and can consume up to two pounds of fish per day. Cormorant predation has been identified as a significant threat to the outbound migration of salmon and steelhead. To reduce this threat, ODFW will haze the birds in an attempt to disrupt their feeding patterns at the mouths of coastal rivers.

“Our goal is to interrupt the birds’ feeding patterns while young fish are still in the estuaries to improve their chances of getting to the ocean,” said Lindsay Adrean, ODFW’s avian predation coordinator.

Volunteers will be working with ODFW in Tillamook and Alsea bays and at the mouths of the Columbia, Nehalem, Nestucca and Coquille rivers through the end of May. The hazing effort will include driving at the birds in small boats and, occasionally, firing at them with small pyrotechnics. Manpower is being provided by the Clatsop Fisheries Project, Port of Nehalem, Port of Bandon, North Coast Salmon and Steelhead Enhancement Fund, and Alsea Sportsmen’s Association. ODFW will provide boat fuel and program oversight.

Cormorants are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so extra care must be exercised to ensure the birds are not injured or killed. Cormorant populations have been increasing in some areas along the Oregon coast and Columbia River so in addition to hazing ODFW is conducting population surveys to identify opportunities to better strike a balance between the needs of birds and fish.

Image courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

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