Fisherman hazes Oregon Coast sea birds

Fisherman hazes Oregon Coast sea birds


by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on May 21, 2011 at 9:50 AM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 29 at 6:45 PM

Brilliant sunrise breaks in a new day across the Tillamook estuary before a pair and then four more and soon scores of cormorant sea birds fly in to land on the water from their off shore nesting sites.

They land to gobble down baby salmon that are pushed by a strong outgoing tide.

It is a fast feast that that soon turns to dine and dash.

You see, not far away a fast moving jet ski, local fisherman Jim Coon speeds into the cormorant flocks and forces them to take flight.

Coon said, “There can be up to six or seven hundred birds – seems like just acres of them sometimes – working together like a big herd. They push the fish in front of them and pick them off until they’re full. They do it everyday.”

Coon gives the baby salmon a chance at survival.

He speeds across the bay to chase the birds away and he does it every single day.

“They pretty much know the routine...know where the salmon are as they swim out of the rivers towards the ocean. But when they see me coming from a quarter mile away, up they fly and head back out to sea. It does make a difference.”

A local fishing group, Tillamook Anglers Association, had the idea and applied for a hazing permit from the state. They provided ten thousand dollars to cover the boat, the gas and Coon’s time to haze the sea birds for 2-3 months this spring.

John Krauthoefer, a TAA member , said the idea is simple, unique and worth the money.

"It is one way for the anglers to help the salmon out! There are many things that contribute to the success of these salmon runs and number one, you must get them out to the ocean. If you don’t get them out to the ocean you’re not going to have anything to come back.”

The fishermen say the secret to success on the sea bird hazing is to move the birds each morning of each day all through the spring time.

Yet, there remain some things the fishermen cannot control; namely,  the overall population of cormorant sea birds living in Oregon waters.

That's  the case at East Sand Island on the Columbia River.

Two bird species: Double-crested cormorants and Brant’s cormorants showed up here a few years ago to breed and nest.

Today, the island holds 12,000 breeding pairs and it is world’s largest cormorant colony.

State biologist Michelle Schuiteman said they eat more than 16 million baby salmon each spring.

“Cormorants are generalist feeders: they take prey in typical proportion to the availability. The birds can have an impact on core species of fish in certain locations and we think that the impacts can be fairly heavy.”

Back on Tillamook Bay, Jim Coon says he’s a bit like a cormorant cowboy: riding his jet ski across the vast bay, hazing sea birds and protecting the salmon for safe passage.

“I know we’re making a difference for these fish. I know it!”