- The cormorant/fisherman issue is not limited to Tillamook County in
1988-1989 but is symptomatic of a widespread conflict of some fishermen
with fish-eating animals.
Predators, specifically cormorants, have been blamed for the "ruin" of
the Tillamook fisheries, but the effects of cormorant predation have been
exaggerated. Actually, current salmon and steelhead catches are similar to or
greater than many catches prior to 1972, when several "predators" (including
Double-crested Cormorants) were not protected by law. Although it is clear
that cormorants can eat some smolts in Tillamook Bay, it is unreasonable to
assume that they eat as many as has been suggested. For example, when figures
that appeared in a Tillamook newspaper are added up, cormorants in Tillamook
Bay in 1988 were suggested to eat nearly three times as many smolts as were
Because a few Tillamook County fishing guides and fishermen felt that
cormorants were destroying their salmon and steelhead fisheries, they
pressured the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) into giving them
permits to harass (but not kill) cormorants in the spring of 1988 on public
waters of Nehalem and Tillamook Bays. The permittees were not supervised to
be sure that they did not disturb or harm nontarget wildlife (i.e., wildlife
other than the targeted cormorants) or did not kill cormorants.
After the ODFW announced in late November 1988 that they would not be
issuing cormorant harassment permits in 1989, a few Tillamook fishing guides
and fishermen worked to pass House Bill 3185 during the 1989 Oregon
Legislative session. House Bill 3185 would have allowed cormorant
harassment along the entire Oregon Coast any time during the year, but the
Bill failed. Then, in July 1989, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission
refused to consider granting harassment permits to fishing guides and
fishermen. Thus, cormorant harassment in 1989 was not legalized, although
some harassment apparently occurred illegally.
Cormorant harassment in Tillamook County does not currently meet the
requirements to justify an animal damage control program. For example, one
criterion of such a program is that there be minimal compensatory predation
(i.e., prey saved from the controlled predator is taken by noncontrolled
predators). But if cormorants are harassed, there are many other predators
that could eat the "saved" smolts, including adult coho and chinook salmon,
steelhead, cutthroat trout, and striped bass that may eat millions of salmon
and steelhead smolts along the Oregon Coast each year.
Current information indicates that documented smolt losses from cormorant
predation may not compensate the economic, biological, aesthetic, and social
costs of harassment. Biological costs include disturbance to nontarget
wildlife such as waterfowl or threatened and endangered birds like the Bald
Eagle and Brown Pelican; disturbance would unavoidably accompany cormorant
harassment. One social cost of interest is that predator control of
cormorants to "save" salmon is arbitrary and capricious, since salmon are
themselves a significant predator of young Dungeness crabs and fish important
to other Oregon commercial and sports fishermen.
Alternatives to cormorant harassment exist and would address all smolt
predation, not just that by cormorants. These alternatives include changing
hatchery practices, so that smolts survive better after release. These alternatives should be at least considered.
Biologists may have somewhat defused the cormorant harassment issue if
they were more able to communicate with nonbiologically-trained fishermen, but
even so, there are a few fishing guides and fishermen who refuse to believe
any information that does not agree with their own opinions.