Each spring, more than 60,000 birds come to East Sand Island near the mouth of the Columbia River to nest, including 14,900 breeding pairs of double-crested cormorants. It is believed to be the largest colony of the birds in North America, and millions of fish are needed to sustain their numbers every year. According to the US Army Corp of Engineers, over the past 15 years the birds have consumed an average of approximately 11 million juvenile salmon and steelhead every year. Even worse, experts say that the rate of predation is only increasing—to about 20 million smolts in 2011.

“They’re eating over 6 percent of all the wild steelhead that are passing through the lower Columbia River,” fisheries biologist Ritchie Graves told National Geographic.

That is a very significant number for fish like chinook salmon, which are on the endangered species list. Cormorants have not always had such a big impact on the local fish population, in fact they are not even native to East Sand Island. That is because the birds only arrived after the man-made additions to the island in the 1980s. Now the Corps propose to reduce the cormorant colony to only 5,000 breeding pairs in an effort to protect the fishery.

Double-crested cormorants have a history of impacting fish populations, and more than half a million of the birds have been killed since 1998.

“The Corps knows managing double-crested cormorant predation could cause significant impacts to the western population of double-crested cormorants,” the Corps stated on its website. “Therefore we must analyze those impacts and evaluate them when making a decision.”

The US Army Corps of Engineers is currently working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of Agriculture, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to come up with a plan to lower the cormorant population—or at least mitigate the number of fish they eat.

Image from Saperaud on the Wikimedia Commons

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10 thoughts on “Killing Birds to Save Salmon: Officials Propose Culling Largest Cormorant Colony in America

  1. They are a non-native species that is destroying the native fish population — in fact, several different varieties of native fish. These fish provide food for the local people as well as income for the commercial fishermen and the charter boat businesses, and income for the coastal communities. The cormorants are non-native, they are a serious detriment to the fish population and they need to go. All of them need to go. The Corps of Engineers is wrong in only wanting to cull a portion of the population here — they are non-native and they are destructive. They all need to go.

  2. Another stop-gap solution to “save salmon.” Firstbit was terns, then sea lions… If the feds ever get serious about saving Northwest salmon and steelhead, they’ll remove the worthless dams on the Snake and Columbia. Then you’ll have varied migrations rather than massive pods of young fish pouring out of the river, fresh off the barges (yes, they barge fish around the dams!). Cormorants are there because we’ve given them the habitat and an endless supply of hatchery clones to eat. Address the real problem, and we can have a sustainable population of salmon/steelhead again.

  3. We successfully culled our population on the Susquehanna river near the PA capitol a few years ago. These birds can eat up to 6x their body weight in a day, often vomitting only to gorge again. To me it seems a reasonable and cost effective decision.

  4. In Minnesota we had a serious problem with them eating the walleye as they migrated back to the lake from the nursery swamp adjacent. The walleye population became seriously depleted. The cormorants are very prolific breeders. The number of birds was reduced greatly and the walleye population returned. Now the threat is “trophy everything” eating the forage down to the point that the walleye is now the forage. And the problem exists again. If the cormorant is an invasive species to that area, what is wrong with trying to eliminate it from that area? In addition to the removal of the dams……

  5. They are a non-native bird. Why is there any discussion of getting rid of them? Kill them all. Not just cull. They are a nuisance predator that is also destroying the small mouth bass population of the NY Finger Lakes.

  6. Double-crested Cormorants are a native bird, I don’t know where the “non-native invasive species” designation is coming from. The issue on the Columbia River was caused by the Corps of Engineers building an island out of dredge spoils in an area where the salmon and steelhead congregate as they adapt to saltwater. Move or modify the island that is the root cause of the birds being there, just remove the nesting space by lowering the island so that it floods during high water.

  7. Cormorants also eat “delta smelt”, the fish that is being used to shut off water to the farmers in California. The 440 page “Biological Opinion” that is the “scientific” basis for the extreme regulations in California talks about everything impacting the delta smelt population except they left out all fish eating birds, including Cormorants. It wasn’t PC to say a protected bird was eating “threatened” fish species when you can blame the farmers.

    A correlation analysis that leaves out a relevant variable is just political nonsense. The government has known about this bird predation problem for over a decade, but made models of the Columbia River populations excluding this variable. If this was done by industry, it would be called scientific fraud.

  8. I am a trout fisherman in the West coast and these birds are everywhere. We are not blessed with to many natural lakes and most lakes are stocker type lakes, the birds everyone says here are “protected” and if you harm them you get penalised. This is ridicules! They are so comfterble around humans that when we catch a stocked rainbow trout, these birds stack the fish as you are reeling them in. They have been seen working in groups of 2 to 3 birds following your fish in and taking them of the line! How are we as licsense , law abiding sportsman able to enjoy a day out at the lake as the fish rather fear for there life than eat our bait. I am pledging to start a petition to remove or eradicate this species the ” double crested coomarant from our state!

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