Salmon are one of anglers’ most sought-after catches. Not only are they delicious to eat, but they can also be quite a challenge to land. King salmon, the largest species in the Pacific salmon genus, have weighed in at up to 100 pounds in Alaska, for example.
However, humans aren’t the fish’s biggest threat. Predatory seabirds have been having a devastating impact on salmon populations. Consequently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services is preparing a plan to hunt thousands of hungry double crested cormorants, to reduce the numbers of baby salmon being preyed upon.
Biologists blame double crested cormorants, which are large black birds that have long necks, webbed feet, and hooked bills used to dive below water surfaces and catch small fish, for damaging salmon populations. According to biologists’ estimates, the seabirds eat about 12 million baby salmon — some of which are federally protected — each year as they migrate down the Columbia river to the ocean.
The population of these predatory birds on East Sand Island near Ilwaco, Washington has grown from about 100 pairs in 1989 to a whopping 14,000 pairs in 2015, making it the largest cormorant nesting colony out West.
In order to protect the salmon being preyed upon, Wildlife Services will file a plan during the last week of May with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reduce the island’s population from 14,000 pairs to only 5,600 by 2018. According to an environmental impact statement, federal hunters will have to shoot adult birds, spray their eggs with oil to prevent them from hatching, and destroy their nests. The carcasses of dead cormorants will be donated to educational and scientific institutions, buried, or incinerated.
Conservation groups tried to convince a federal judge to stop the stop the killings in an effort to prevent it from ever happening, arguing that dams killed more young salmon than the birds do, but failed.