Don't scapegoat cormorants

I was saddened and disgusted when I read an editorial statement titled “Cormorants: Cool Dinosaur descendents but do we need so many of them?”, that appeared on Page A4 of the November 21, 2012, issue of the Chinook Observer in Long Beach, Washington. (The headline itself could have used some editing, but that is not the point of this statement.)

The writer’s use of various dark imagery devices in that editorial to malign and demonize cormorants–“dinosaur-like”, “hunch-shoulders (shouldered?) demeanor“, “inner-pterodactyl” in appearance, and “revolting taste” in describing cormorant meat–seemed likely designed to desensitize the public to the idea of a good, old-fashioned “cormorant culling” operation on East Sand Island in the Columbia River near Chinook, Washington.

I’ve read about such operations in the Great Lakes region of North America. They are not pretty sights.

Men with firearms walk into the cormorant colony and begin killing cormorants as fast and furiously as possible. The culling in Ontario, Canada, on the Great Lakes about which I read was accomplished during nesting season when cormorants were sitting quietly on their nests, incubating eggs. The birds were concentrated, still, and easy targets at that time.

Once the shooting began in Ontario, there were dead, wounded, flailing, and dying cormorants everywhere and that particular colony’s nesting season was certainly abruptly ended in a field of feathers and gore. It was an inhumane spectacle.

Is this what fishing interests–whether sport or commercial–seek here?

I would suggest to you who malign cormorants locally that Double-crested, Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants lived in harmony and ecological balance with Native Americans and with wild Pacific Northwest salmon for at least 10,000-13,000 years before Europeans came to these shores to destroy the natural ecosystem and overfish coastal waters in their rapacious commercial greed.

Wild salmon are not disappearing from the Pacific Northwest because of the activities of hungry cormorants.

Salmon are disappearing because industrial man has dammed rivers, built dikes in salt water marshes (an especially germane issue in Pacific County where some locals stubbornly oppose dike removal), destroyed watersheds in logging operations, and poisoned estuaries that drain the Northwest with agricultural runoff that includes commercial fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.

Salmonids require easy access to unpolluted fresh water rivers in order to spawn and complete their life cycles successfully. Men have made that well nigh impossible for any species of salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

You should not scapegoat an easily maligned wild creature that is only doing what hardwired instinct dictates when it devours young salmon smolts making their way to the Pacific Ocean. The true culprit in the depletion of salmon over time is homo sapiens–industrial man.

A recent U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study suggests that cormorants are consuming about 18 percent of young salmon coming down the Columbia River. That leaves commercial and sports fishermen with 82 percent of the salmon.

And what will these men so avid to see cormorants dispersed or destroyed do with their 82 percent share of the salmon? Why, they’ll hope to catch and eat them–or sell them for someone else to eat–just as the cormorants eat their catches.

Is this not a fair balance–a typical cut for men who always expect to skim the cream–to get the lion‘s share of everything the natural world offers? Eighteen (18) percent of salmon for the birds and 82 percent for men? That sounds about right to me.

Double-crested and other cormorants, inner-pterodactyl appearances notwithstanding, should not serve as scapegoats for the human destruction of habitats and entire ecosystems that is the real cause of losses of salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

D. Grant Haynes

Long Beach

This article was published by Community Opinions and written by a reader of Northwest Opinions.
  • brantleyrose

    Beautifully and powerfully written! D. Grant Haynes I couldn’t agree more with what you have said.

  • Anita Crawford

    Well said … and true

  • Sandy

    I’d like to see a follow up study on what happened in China after the decision was made to extinguish the bird population because they ate the grain in the fields.