Nearly 200 Birds in Care Contaminated by Fish Waste; Discharge Pipes at Fish Cleaning Stations to Blame

Since the last week in June 184 birds, almost all recently hatched Brown Pelicans, have been admitted for care by Bird Ally X at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. All but three of these birds were contaminated by fish waste. While the rest of the West coast is seeing an unusually large number of Brown pelicans dying of emaciation –  for reasons not yet understood –  here on the North coast of California, Brown Pelicans and other birds face a different and more easily identified threat. Discharge pipes at fish cleaning stations in Shelter Cove and Crescent City are responsible for the contamination of hundreds of Brown Pelicans and untold numbers of gulls, primarily Heermann’s Gulls, who often forage and hunt with Brown Pelicans.

These birds are being doused in fish waste as they forage for scraps beneath the outflow of these polluting pipes. Fish waste and fish oil disrupt the feather structure that allows a seabird to remain dry and warm when entering the cold waters of the North Pacific. Without rescue they die.


Multiple incidents of such contaminations have been documented with photographs and video by Bird Ally X rescue crews in Crescent City and Shelter Cove.

California Department of Fish and Game code 5650 (a)(6) specifically states that it is illegal to allow to enter into State waters any material that “is deleterious to fish, plant life, mammals, or bird life.”

California EPA requires that fish waste from marinas be treated as waste water or sewage, not discharged into State  waters.

After much public pressure, Crescent City Harbor District (CCHD)has reportedly closed the cleaning station with this type of discharge pipe. Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District (HBHRCD), which has jurisdiction over Shelter Cove’s fish cleaning station has yet to do so. Even now, more birds are being contaminated by this pipe.

These discharge pipes have injured hundreds of birds and killed many more. Biologist Deborah Jaques has said that over 50 pelican carcasses have been recovered. It is unknowable how many have died, or are yet to die.

Pelicans and gulls killed by fish cleaning station discharge is not new to the North Coast. In August/September 2011 Bird Ally X at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center rescued 50 Birds from Crescent City and Shelter Cove suffering from the exact same problem. 

Besides releasing 43 birds, Bird Ally X met with Harbor District officials and provided low-cost, easily maintained solutions. Both Cal EPA and US EPA recommend composting as a zero discharge solution to fish waste at public marinas and boat launches. Both HBHRCD and CCHD have had nearly a year to eliminate the source of pollution and stop killing and injuring Brown Pelicans and other wildlife.

As well as the cost paid by these iconic birds, nearly all of whom are still adolescents, less than 4 months old (Brown Pelicans can live 40 years), the costs incurred by Bird Ally X and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, the only two permitted rehabilitators on California’s North Coast that can respond to this crisis, threaten our ability to continue as organizations. To date over 180 Birds have been brought into care and more are to come. Yet the Harbor District so far has refused to offer to cover any of the costs at all. This response could cost these organizations jointly over $100,000, not factoring in staff salary.

Volunteers to help with the labor-intensive task of rehabilitating this many large birds are vital to our success. Financial donations are also crucial. Each pelican eats 3-5 pounds of fish each day. That amounts to over $500/day on fish alone.


to learn more and to contribute to the care of these birds.

Contact the Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District and Crescent City Harbor District. Demand that they stop illegally polluting California Coastal water and killing California Brown Pelicans. Demand that they pay their fair share for the care of the Pelicans they’ve injured.




4 thoughts on “Nearly 200 Birds in Care Contaminated by Fish Waste; Discharge Pipes at Fish Cleaning Stations to Blame

  1. These pictures of oiled birds will help me identify and report them in the future. Thank you for helping me understand what was right before my eyes.

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