At the bottom of the food chain are the creatures that eat only plants followed by those creatures that eat them. Along the Oregon Coast and up the rivers many birds and animals want a chance to eat salmon.
Salmon normally spawn in the fresh water stream where they were hatched. The danger begins as soon as the eggs are laid. If they are eaten as eggs, the salmon ‘fry’ stay in the stream between six months and three years. Many kinds or birds and other creatures eat the ‘fry’. Eventually, if they are lucky, the ‘fry’ turn into ‘smolts’ and head for the open ocean. Various birds try to eat them as they go. Once in the ocean, they are prey for various fish and orca whales. Salmon make up 96% of the diet of the orcas that live along the Pacific coast of North America. Chinook and Chum salmon are the orcas favorites. Assuming that the salmon make it back to the mouth of the stream where they will spawn, they become prey for cormorants, Caspian terns, and bald eagles. As they move up the rivers and streams they become prey for sea lions, bears, and other animals. Salmon only spawn once and then die within a few days.
Humans fish for salmon out in the ocean, as well as in the rivers and streams where they spawn. For some unknown reason, humans feel that we should be the only ones who eat salmon. The sea lions that swim into rivers to eat salmon are harassed and occasionally killed. The Federal government has approved the killing of up 92 sea lions between Idaho, Washington, and Oregon during the next four years.
Recently people have turned their attention to the sea birds that eat salmon. Cormorants, Caspian terns, and bald eagles take a huge number of ‘smolts’ as well as adult returning salmon. The Army Corps of Engineers is trying to reduce the take of the cormorants. First random lights were used to scare the birds away from the Columbia River. The birds adjusted to the lights and returned to feeding. Next the Army Corps of Engineers built an eight foot high fence and used vinyl privacy covers to block off about 60% of the bird’s nesting area. Still the birds ate too much salmon.
Cormorants are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so the state must seek permission to harm them. The state of Oregon has petitioned the federal government for permission to destroy cormorant eggs and/or shoot the adults.
Depoe Bay canceled its traditional Fourth of July fireworks because it upset the Brandt’s cormorants that nest about a mile from the fireworks site. This is an economic loss for the community. Motels that had been full in past years on the Fourth of July did not fill this year. That means not just a loss for motels, but also for restaurants and shops.
Indirectly protecting the birds causes electric rates to rise. Easing the movement of salmon and other fish and wildlife around dams is responsible for about 30% of the wholesale rates of the Bonneville Power Administration. The people of Oregon spend millions of dollars to increase salmon populations. Seabirds eat approximately two pounds of salmon each per day. Orcas eat about 500 pounds of salmon per day each. This causes electric companies to redouble their efforts to protect the salmon.
Article written by Mary Boyer
The Oregon Coast is a delicate ecosystem with many different stakeholders interests at heart. Which animals should be protected first and which creatures we should support with tax dollars will continue to be a major discussion that the residents of Oregon will be faced with.
There are many people that think instead of fighting nature, why don’t humans stop eating salmon and let the animals and birds have their natural prey? We can eat other things. While others make a living fishing the local rivers and oceans for sustenance and to feed there families with locally caught fresh fish for the dinner table and to sell at market.
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