Foundation removes 5,667 lost fishing nets from Puget Sound

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) – The Northwest Straits Foundation has reached a milestone in its efforts to remove lost fishing nets from Puget Sound.

The foundation reported this week that it has retrieved 5,667 of the so-called “killer nets.”

About 260 species of marine animals were found in the nets, including 65 mammals, 1,092 birds and 5,659 fish. Many died while trapped in the nets, including porpoises, seals, otters, diving birds, sharks, salmon, crab and octopuses, the Skagit Valley Herald reports.

Foundation director Joan Drinkwin says between the time the program was launched in 2002 and the work was completed June 30, net removal restored 812 acres of marine habitat.

The organization is working with the fishing industry to prevent nets from becoming derelict. The organization also hopes to eventually recover lost fishing gear from deeper water.

Army Corps resumes killing East Sand Island cormorants

By Katie Wilson

EO Media Group

July 17, 2015 12:01AM

Madeline Kalbach/Submitted Photo
Double-crested cormorants like this one spread their wings in the sun to dry after getting them wet in the pursuit of small fish in the water. East Sand Island near Chinook is the location of a major colony of the birds.



Death toll hit 158 in early July.

CHINOOK, Wash. — Contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are once again killing double-crested cormorants on East Sand Island after stopping for a week at the end of June, saying they didn’t want to disturb nesting birds or orphan newly hatched chicks.

According to numbers released on the Army Corps website, contractors killed 33 birds sometime between July 3 and July 9, bringing the total killed this year to 158. The website does not clarify if the birds killed were only double-crested cormorants; the agency’s depredation permit allows for the accidental take of other cormorant species, including Brandt’s cormorants which also nest on the island, and pelagic cormorants that sometimes fly nearby.

No nests were destroyed through a process called “oiling” during this most recent lethal take period, but sometime between June 9 (the last time numbers were published on the website) and June 24 (when killing had been halted for roughly a week) and before July 3 (the beginning of the most recent take), contractors apparently oiled 3,320 nests, bringing the total of nests oiled to date to 5,089.

This is just 790 nests shy of the total take of nests allowed under a one-year depredation permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Oiling prevents eggs from hatching and the bird embryos die in the shell.

Killing authorized

The killing is authorized under a depredation permit the Corps obtained this year as part of a management plan the agency says will protect runs of juvenile salmon by removing a large number of the birds that prey on them.

Two species of cormorant nest seasonally on East Sand Island, a 62-acre island at the mouth of the Columbia River, but only one is targeted under the management plan: double-crested cormorants. The colony’s numbers have swelled in recent years and the Corps says adult birds consume millions of young protected and endangered salmon every year.

The depredation permit, which must be renewed annually, is valid through Jan. 31, 2016. But the birds are only on the island seasonally, arriving in the early spring to begin nesting and departing when colder weather rolls in.

Orphaned chicks could starve

The Audubon Society of Portland fears killing birds at the height of the nesting season impacts the colony in ways the agencies have not adequately accounted for, since any orphaned chicks will likely starve to death or die from exposure.

Audubon is suing the Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Corps’ contractors — the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service — regarding the double-crested cormorant management plan.

The Corps says the contractors are taking care not to shoot nesting parent birds.

“They’re very specific about how they’re only culling adults where they can clearly see there are no eggs present,” said Army Corps spokeswoman Diana Fredlund.

Under the management plan, the Corps plans to reduce the total number of breeding pairs on the island from about 14,000 to 5,600 by 2018, a move the Audubon Society says unnecessarily slashes a healthy colony during a time when double-crested cormorants are struggling elsewhere.

Fish Smarts: Why Fish Are More Than Just Streams of Protein

Fish are smart, sentient, and know a lot about themselves and others
by Marc Bekoff Ph.D. on Jul 05, 2015 in Animal Emotions

I’m always looking for interesting and “surprising” discoveries about animal cognition and emotions to share with readers and today I learned about two excellent and brief summaries of some of the latest news about the cognitive lives of fish — what they know about themselves and others. In the past I’ve written a lot about fish sentience because fish often get the short end of the stick when people write about the cognitive and emotional lives of vertebrates (please also see “Fish have feelings too: Expert claims creatures experience pain in the same way humans do – and should be treated better (link is external)” in which it is noted, “Fish have good memories, build complicated structures and show behaviour seen in primates – as well as feeling pain like us”). Indeed, fish were omitted from the list of animals mentioned in the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, issued in July 2013 (please see “Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings“) when they should have been included. At the time the declaration was issued we knew a lot about fish sentience and cognition and their omission is regrettable and indefensible..

An excellent review of research on fish cognition and emotions can be found in Macquarie University’s Culum Brown’s (link is external) essay called “Fish intelligence, sentience and ethics (link is external),” published in the peer reviewed journal Animal Cognition. A very interesting and important interview with Dr. Brown by Farm Sanctuary’s Bruce Freidrich (link is external) can be read here (link is external).

The abstract for Dr. Brown’s essay reads as follows: Fish are one of the most highly utilised vertebrate taxa by humans; they are harvested from wild stocks as part of global fishing industries, grown under intensive aquaculture conditions, are the most common pet and are widely used for scientific research. But fish are seldom afforded the same level of compassion or welfare as warm-blooded vertebrates. Part of the problem is the large gap between people’s perception of fish intelligence and the scientific reality. This is an important issue because public perception guides government policy. The perception of an animal’s intelligence often drives our decision whether or not to include them in our moral circle. From a welfare perspective, most researchers would suggest that if an animal is sentient, then it can most likely suffer and should therefore be offered some form of formal protection. There has been a debate about fish welfare for decades which centres on the question of whether they are sentient or conscious. The implications for affording the same level of protection to fish as other vertebrates are great, not least because of fishing-related industries. Here, I review the current state of knowledge of fish cognition starting with their sensory perception and moving on to cognition. The review reveals that fish perception and cognitive abilities often match or exceed other vertebrates. A review of the evidence for pain perception strongly suggests that fish experience pain in a manner similar to the rest of the vertebrates. Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any non-human vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate.

This weekend I learned about an essay by Abigail Geer called “5 Incredible Fish Behaviors That Show Just How Intelligent They Really Are (link is external)” that nicely summarizes some of the latest research on fish cognition. Ms. Geer writes about mutual cooperation, how fish cheat others, how they form hunting partnerships, how they signal to others using their body, and how they know to eat food that will disappear shortly. She concludes her essay as follows: “As humans, we have developed a very self centric view of the world, where we judge all other species by our own perception of them. For us to develop into a more compassionate society, which is not responsible for the murder of billions of animals each year, we must learn to understand and respect each and every animal on the planet for who they are.”

Primates aren’t all that special 

Ms. Geer’s essay is based mainly on the work of noted fish researcher Redouan Bshary (link is external), who’s groundbreaking research is summarized in an essay by Alison Abbott called “Animal behaviour: Inside the cunning, caring and greedy minds of fish (link is external)” published in the prestigious journal Nature. Both Ms. Geer and Ms. Abbott’s essays are easy reads and I highly suggest them. Research on the cognitive and emotional lives of fish are showing that non-human primates aren’t all that special. Emory University’s world renowned primate researcher Frans de Waal (link is external)notes, “Primate chauvinism may now be poised to decline, thanks in large part to Bshary’s fish work.” Claims about nonhuman primate and human exceptionalism must be carefully re-evaluated because this sort of speciesism can be seriously called into question based on solid scientific research.

Fish should be included in our moral circle

So, what does the latest research on fish cognition and emotions mean in terms of how we treat them? In her very interesting book called Do Fish Feel Pain? (link is external) Victoria Braithwaite (link is external) concluded, “I have argued that there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals — and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies.” (page 153).

It’s high time that we use what we know on behalf of fish and other animals who are used and abused in the countless billions. Fish clearly are not things nor disposable objects or mere streams of protein, but rather sentient and feeling beings, a point stressed in Farm Sanctuary’s “Someone, Not Something (link is external)” project.

In a recent interview with Hope Ferdowsian (link is external) I noted, “There still is a lot of work to be done but there is no doubt in my mind and heart that we can make the world a much better place – a more compassionate home — for nonhumans and humans. It isn’t going to be easy but that’s just the way it is. Every one who can do something positive must do what she/he can do. We need to be activists, not slacktivists. We all must walk the talk and not expect others to do what we can and should do. I remain optimistic because of all the wonderful people who are out there working for all animals and their homes. We must remember that compassion begets compassion and violence begets violence. I love the saying, ‘The world becomes what you teach,’ espoused by the Institute for Humane Education (link is external).”

It is essential that a broad audience knows what we are learning about fish from detailed empirical research. As noted above, Dr. Brown concludes his essay as follows: “Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any non-human vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate.” I couldn’t agree more. Fish and all other animals need all the help they can get and we need to use what we learn from empirical research on their behalf.

Note: I just learned of a most valuable essay by B. Wren Patton and Victoria Braithwaite called “Changing tides: ecological and historical perspectives on fish cognition (link is external),” the abstract of which concludes, “Never before has the field had such a wide array of interdisciplinary techniques available to access both cognitive and mechanistic processes underpinning fish behavior. This capacity comes at a critical time to predict and manage fish populations in an era of unprecedented global change.” You can also watch an interview with Dr. Braithwaite here (link is external) about why fish need to be treated humanely.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservationWhy dogs hump and bees get depressed, and Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistenceThe Jane effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson) has recently been published. (; @MarcBekoff)

Seafood supply altered by climate change

The global supply of seafood is set to change substantially and many people will not be able to enjoy the same quantity and dishes in the future due to climate change and ocean acidification, according to UBC scientists.

These findings were released today in Japan by the Nereus program, an international research team led by UBC scientists and supported by the Nippon Foundation. The Nereus program was formed to study the future of the world’s oceans and seafood resources. Today it released a summary of the first phase of its research in a report titled ‘Predicting Future Ocean.’ Researchers say that the future supply of seafood will be substantially altered by climate change, overfishing and other human activities.

“The types of fish that we will have on our dinner table will be very different in the future,” said William Cheung, UBC associate professor and the co-director of the Nereus program. “Fisheries will be catching more warm-water species, with smaller size, and that will affect fish supply through our domestic and oversea fisheries as well as imports.”

The report highlighted climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing and destruction of marine ecosystems as the primary drivers of ocean change. Researchers say these changes will lead to a decline in fisheries in many regions and alter marine biodiversity and food web structures.

Researchers say there are solutions to help the ocean and communities prepare for the future. These include improving ocean governance globally to ensure sustainable fisheries and the need to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

“Global marine ecosystems have already been largely altered by overfishing,” said Daniel Pauly, professor at UBC and an advisor to Nereus. “This report clearly points out that any solution needs to deal with the CO2 problem as well.”


Corps Has “Removed” 125 Cormorants (So Far)

June 12, 2015  • 


During the day, crews from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services typically survey the island and the cormorants’ habitat, corps spokesman Matthew Eppard said Friday.

The birds are shot at night using rifles equipped with silencers and lead-free ammunition, as required by the environmental impact statement. Teams work in two and threes and are armed with .22 caliber rifles, using night vision scopes. Shooting at night is meant to reduce disturbances to other species and also helps hunters identify cormorants that have chicks (they’re trying to avoid killing roosting pairs to avoid leaving hatchlings without parents).

Shot cormorants are removed from the island and surrounding waters as quickly as possible using all-terrain vehicles and small, inflatable boats. They’re taken to a nearby disposal area where they are either buried or incinerated.

Current plans are to continue removing birds from the island for several more months.

“I know it will go into the fall,” Eppard said.

The corps has said it needs to substantially reduce the number of cormorants in the Columbia River estuary to protect salmon and steelhead runs protected by the Endangered Species Act. The corps’ three-year plan calls for killing about 11,000 adult birds, more than a third of the 30,000 birds on the island, and spraying vegetable oil on more than 15,000 eggs to keep them from hatching.

A federal judge earlier this month rejected an attempt by a coalition of animal rights groups to block the project. District Court Judge Michael Simon said the groups failed to show the plan would cause irreparable harm to the species, which biologists say eat millions of juvenile salmon annually.

Each Thursday by 9 a.m. the corps will update results from culling and egg oiling that occurred during the previous week on the cormorant EIS web page at

Tribes, Fisherman Rally For Sea Lion Removal

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Tribes, Fisherman Rally For Sea Lion Removal

Around 200 fisherman and tribal members rallied near Willamette Falls Saturday. They showed support for a bill that would allow tribes with fishing rights to kill some sea lions on the Columbia river.

Sara Thompson, with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, says sea lions have eaten about twice as many fish as usual at the dams this year.

“We’ve seen probably, just in the quarter mile below Bonneville dam, over 8,000 Salmon and Steelhead consumed by sea lions,” she said.

The bill, HR 564, is  sponsored by Oregon Democrat Kurt Schrader and Washington Republican Jaime Herrera-Beutler.

State wildlife managers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho already have the authority to trap and kill sea lions, and have euthanized at least 30 this year.

The bill would also allow states and tribes to target sea lions that prey on a broader range of fish, not just those that snack on threatened salmon.

Federal biologists say the high number of sea lions spotted this year on the Columbia are the result of strong smelt and salmon runs. They say unusually warm ocean temperatures have made it difficult for the marine mammals to find prey off the California coast and have driven them north.

The Columbia Cormorant ‘Cull’ Begins



Associated Press

Published:May 28, 2015 8:46AM

Armed with rifles equipped with silencers, government hunters have started shooting seabirds on an uninhabited island at the mouth of the Columbia River, to reduce their consumption of juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged Wednesday that wildlife control personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services started over the weekend implementing the corps’ plan to cut by more than half the numbers of double-crested cormorants nesting on East Sand Island between Oregon and Washington, where they eat millions of juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean. The island is the biggest double-crested cormorant nesting site in North America, and some of the salmon are protected species.

Bob Winters, program manager for the corps, said a team of three to four wildlife control personnel armed with .22-caliber rifles would be killing birds on the island through August. The goal is to reduce the colony from about 14,000 breeding pairs to 5,600 pairs by 2018.

The Audubon Society of Portland has challenged the killing in a federal lawsuit that argues the corps is ignoring the biggest threat to salmon, hydroelectric dams on the Columbia. Conservation director Bob Sallinger called on the corps to allow independent observers on the island so the public can know how the killing is being carried out, and to call off the killing until the lawsuit has run its course.

“The idea of turning the largest cormorant colony in the United States into as shooting gallery and killing cormorants on the nest is a low point in terms of recent wildlife management efforts,” Sallinger said.

Winters said Wildlife Services personnel are focusing on portions of the colony where eggs have yet to hatch, so as not to create a situation where chicks are left without parents to feed them. Numbers of how many birds have been killed and eggs oiled to prevent them from hatching are to be posted on a corps website on Thursdays each week.

He added the corps has a contract with people who are verifying the culling is being done in accordance with the environmental impact statement.

Sans Sea Lions, the Port of Astoria Would Miss the Boat

Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River at the top of the Oregon Coast, Astoria, can be a nice small town to visit, if you like sea lions. If not, it can be a cold, heartless and otherwise pretty boring place. DSC_0043

The entertaining pinnipeds lounging, cavorting and guarding their tiny spot on a couple of the docks in the town’s East Moring Basin are a must see for anyone who enjoys connecting with the wildlife close-up.

DSC_0055 DSC_0073

Unfortunately, a few of the locals are more fulfilled by hating and shooting the friendly, comical sea lions despite the steady draw they bring to this depressed and rather depressing town which makes a temporary living through extraction of dwindling natural resources, such as fish and trees (many of which are shipped to China on giant, diesel carbon-spewing container ships). Not unlike so many other instances in society, it’s really only a few local people, claiming all for humans, who want the sea lions evicted, but they don’t mind ruining it for everyone else.                                                          

Also see:

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, All Rights Reserved

A similar situation is going on in nearby Gearhart, just north of Seaside, Oregon. A herd of Roosevelt elk recently moved into the quietish town (after being crowded out of their former home by development, including a Home Depot, Petco, Staples, Dollar Store, a couple of auto dealerships, and a relocated, expanded super-Costco, with more to come soon—all, ironically—on “Dolphin” Lane). For now they enjoy the dunes along the beach, but that could all change if the few who resent wildlife in their proximity have their way…


When Humans Declared War on Fish
When Humans Declared War on Fish


ON Friday we humans observed V-E Day, the end to one part of a global catastrophe that cost the planet at least 60 million lives. But if we were fish, we would have marked the day differently – as the beginning of a campaign of violence against our taxonomic classes, one that has resulted in trillions of casualties.

Oddly, the war itself was a great reprieve for many marine species. Just as Axis and Allied submarines and mines made the transportation of war matériel a highly perilous endeavor, they similarly interfered with fishing. The ability to catch staple seafoods, like cod, declined markedly. Freed from human pursuit, overexploited species multiplied in abundance.

But World War II also brought a leap in human ingenuity, power and technical ability that led to an unprecedented assault on our oceans. Not only did ships themselves become larger, faster and more numerous, but the war-derived technologies they carried exponentially increased their fishing power.

Take sonar. Before the 1930s, electronic echolocation was a barely functioning concept. It allowed operators to trace the vague contours of the seafloor topography and crudely track the pathway of a large moving object. But the war pushed forward dramatic advances in sonar technology; by its end, sophisticated devices, developed for hunting submarines, had grown infinitely more precise, and could now be repurposed to hunt fish.

Schools of fish could soon be pinpointed to within a few yards, and clearly differentiated from the sea’s bottom. Coupled with high-powered diesel engines that had been developed during the global conflict, the modern fishing vessel became a kind of war machine with a completely new arsenal: lightweight polymer-based nets, monofilament long lines that could extend for miles and onboard freezers capable of storing a day’s catch for months at a time.

Even human resources developed during the war were later redirected toward fishing: Japanese fighter pilots adept at spotting subsurface Allied submarines were later retrained to look for whales. Likewise, more than a few former Allied pilots found postwar employment hunting bluefin tuna and Atlantic menhaden.

In some ways, the “war machine” wasn’t a metaphor. Across South Asia, leftover explosives were “recycled” for “bomb fishing,” an obscenely destructive way of killing coastal fish, which turned many coral reefs into rubble fields. And the technological overkill continued into the Cold War era: Satellite imagery and GPS technology originally intended to track the movements of the Soviet nuclear arsenal eventually allowed well-populated fish habitats to be clearly identified from space.

Because the war incentivized the creation of ships with much longer oceangoing ranges, it also meant that fishing was transformed from a local endeavor into a global one. “Industrial fishing,” maybe the first globalized economic enterprise, meant the wholesale, permanent occupation of marine ecosystems, instead of the local raids practiced by previous generations.

In addition, emerging economies of scale meant that it wasn’t just the target fish that suffered. With the invention of postwar super trawlers that scooped up everything in their path, a sort of scorched-earth approach to fishing became commonplace.

Taken collectively, the rise of postwar fishing technology meant that the global reported catch rose from some 15 million metric tons at war’s end to 85 million metric tons today – the equivalent, in weight, of the entire human population at the turn of the 20th century, removed from the sea each and every year.

Only the turn of the third millennium saw a new kind of reprieve, this time not caused by human adversity, but by the insight that we need to make peace with other species as well. Growing signs of exhaustion and failure in global fisheries made humans reconsider the totality of their assault.

Marine protected areas, an environmental version of a demilitarized zone, started to spring up, and now cover some 3.5 percent of the ocean. Countries formerly at war began to work together to hammer out new deals for fish, exemplified by both the recent revision of the Common Fisheries Policy in Europe and new efforts underway at the United Nations to better regulate fishing on the high seas, the 60 percent of the oceans outside national control.

Collateral damage to sharks, turtles, whales and sea birds is increasingly becoming unacceptable. And some of those same technologies once used to kill fish with precision are now being used to save them: War-inspired satellite technology is being deployed to identify and pursue rogue vessels fishing illegally.

But in remembering the end of World War II and the deliberate steps that led to a lasting peace, we might contemplate a broader Marshall Plan, which would further restrain our destructive tendencies and technological powers elsewhere, not just in fishing the oceans, but in mining, drilling and otherwise exploiting them.

To be sure, the postwar assault on fish mostly sprang from an honorable intention to feed a growing human population that boomed in a prosperous postwar world. But as in war, everybody loses when there is nothing left to fight for. Only when we fully embrace that simple fact, and act accordingly, will our celebrations resonate among what the author Henry Beston called those “other nations caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”

Paul Greenberg<> is the author, most recently, of “American Catch.” Boris Worm<> is a professor of marine conservation biology at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on May 10, 2015, on page SR4 of the New York edition with the headline: When Humans Declared War on Fish.