An Army Corps of Engineers plans to kill 11,000 double crest cormorants in order to preserve wild salmon has come under fire from environmental groups.
The plan is aimed at saving the endangered migrating salmon population near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. Biologists say that salmon there are being overly consumed by the booming cormorant population. The cormorant population on East Sand Island in Oregon has grown rapidly, from 100 mating pairs in 1989 to 15,000 in 2014. According to the Corps, the birds eat juvenile salmon and steelhead that swim past the island on their journey to Pacific Ocean, gobbling up as many as 11 million of the fish each year. As the Corps is charged with protecting the fish, it has resolved that the only solution is to take out its top predator.
The Corps plans to shoot cormorants using shotguns and rifles, snaring the birds with nets, and pouring vegetable oil on 15,000 cormorant eggs to keep them from hatching. The Army Corps contends that their decision is difficult but necessary, crucial to saving the salmon and steelhead population while keeping the cormorants at a sustainable level. Under an agreement allowing the Corps to operate dams on the Columbia River, it’s required to protect fish runs that also suffer impacts from dams. They believe wiping out out half of the current cormorant population by 2018 will satisfy that requirement.
But that explanation has failed to placate environmental groups, including the Audubon Society of Portland, who don’t believe killing one species will necessarily save another. The Audubon Society believes that better management of the Army Corps’ dams and preserving salmon habit will solve the problem, and the group is hoping to take their argument to court. The Audubon Society is also urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service to deny the permits needed to kill the migratory birds.
Columbia River Indian tribes however, have expressed their support for killing cormorants to protect salmon and steelhead. In a statement released in February, the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission not only approved the plan, but suggested it might be too limited.
The cormorants are not the first species to be targeted for threatening fish in the region. An ongoing debate still rages about how to handle masses of California and Stellers sea lions which also feed on the wild salmon run. In recent years, many sea lions were given federal approval to be removed, either from being euthanized or captured and sent to zoos and aquariums.
If the Corps proposal moves forward, the agency plans to request assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and begin managing the cormorant population this spring.