OSU helps give young salmon a safer commute down the Columbia

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A Caspian tern captures a fish at Crump Lake in southern Oregon. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)
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Alternative nesting sites lure hungry birds away from salmon headed to sea

Oregon State University is helping young Columbia River salmon and steelhead stay out of the gullets of Caspian terns.

An OSU study found that terns nesting on Rice Island in the Columbia River estuary gobbled up about 12 million of the ocean-bound youngsters per year, roughly 10 percent of the salmon and steelhead that made it to the estuary.

So with assistance from OSU, various management agencies developed new nesting habitat at East Sand Island at the mouth of the river where there's a wider variety of fish for terns to eat. It worked. The relocated terns – up to 10,000 breeding pairs – eat less than half as many juveniles as at Rice Island.

The Army Corps of Engineers then created more colonies, including building an island in southern Oregon's Crump Lake. Nearly 160 terns that had been banded at East Sand Island showed up at colonies in interior Oregon and northeastern California in 2012.

That's good news for the state's ocean and in-river fishing industry, which harvested $6.7 million of salmon in 2011.

Sources: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; OSU seabird biologist Dan Roby.

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