In order to save one species, federal officials have come up with a plan that will dramatically cull the numbers of another. To protect young salmon and steelhead trout in the Columbia River, a proposal has been put forth to kill about 11,000 double-crested cormorants who feed off of the endangered fish.
The plan stems from an Environmental Impact Statement and is currently being reviewed. It originally called for an even larger amount of the large black sea birds to be shot and killed over a period of four years. If the proposal wins a final approval, state agriculture workers will also need to spray cormorant eggs with vegetable oil to prevent young chicks from hatching.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which revealed the plan, also studied alternative solutions. One of these included “hazing” the birds to drive them off the island, but was problematic in the fact that the birds would simply be displaced elsewhere. Another plan would necessitate killing about 18,000 of the large birds by 2018. “This is a difficult situation,” said Diana Fredlund, spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps. “We are trying to balance the salmon and steelhead versus the birds. It’s very difficult to find the right answer and so it’s taken us a long time. We’ve had a lot of experts working on it.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a Biological Opinion last year that called for more than a 50 percent reduction of the cormorant population from its current 13,000 breeding pairs to 6,000 or fewer within the next four years. The predatory birds eat young salmon and steelhead, many of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act as either threatened or endangered.
However, the Audubon Society of Portland challenges the plan, insisting that the true dangers to salmon populations are habitat loss due to fish hatcheries and dams. Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director of the local Audubon Society, said that the birds seem to be the chosen scapegoat to deflect blame from the real primary causes of the declining salmon population. He insists that the Audubon Society will fight the decision of the Corps if they finalize in favor of the plan, adding that they will go to court if necessary.
The proposal to kill the cormorants has been supported by the National Marine Fisheries Service.