Warm Water Devastating Salmon Returns in Pacific Northwest

salmon deadDespite what seemed like a promising year for Pacific Northwest salmon returns, warmer water temperatures and droughts have wiped out nearly half of all returning sockeye, and wildlife officials have taken to some extreme measures.

Federal and state fisheries biologists report more than a quarter million of the fish are either dead or dying in the Columbia River and its tributaries. And the total return was estimated at 500,000. 

Unusually high water temperatures and low water levels have all led to an extremely stressed fishery this summer, leading to sport fishing closures in Oregon and Washington. The devastating returns have also plaguing wildlife officials, who made some difficult choices.

In Oregon, the Army Corps of Engineers are shooting cormorants and oiling the nests of these diminutive black birds because they feed on baby salmon and the birds are growing in numbers.

In Idaho, Department of Fish and Game biologists captured and drove returning salmon past the last of eight dams on the Snake River because the water is as much as 6 degrees warmer than usual. 

Warmer temperatures throughout the Pacific Ocean and droughts in California and the Pacific Northwest have all contributed to an exceptionally warm summer so far. Fishermen have especially noticed the trend, leading scientists to predict we are experiencing an El Nino period, followed by a wetter, cooler streak ahead. But until then, wildlife officials are taking some extreme measures to save the salmon.

In Oregon, where the Army Corps of Engineers are shooting cormorants, lawyers for animal rights groups filed a lawsuit in April to stop the practice. In year’s past the agency has shot sea lions at various dams, which drew similar lawsuits.

The most recent endeavor targeted the birds’ nesting ground on East Sand Island, near the mouth of the Columbia River. An agency spokesperson told the Associated Press 58 birds had been killed and more than 5,089 nests have been oiled, destroying the eggs inside them. 

For more stories about the effects of ocean warming, check out these related stories on our Mother Earth hub. 

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