North Coast Fish Waste Response (updated)

Newly released pelican surveys his old haunts at Shelter Cove from abo
Things are starting to quiet down, now that fishing season has quieted down as well. As we reported in our last update, the situation is Crescent City is largely resolved. Lids on fish waste bins, coupled with educational signwork brought an end to contaminations.
Working with the harbormaster, Rich Young, was a positive and productive experience. These simple solutions were quickly implemented. We captured a total of 32 birds in Crescent City – thirty Brown Pelicans (BRPE) and two Western Gulls (WEGU). Due to severe injury, three of the pelicans were humanely euthanized. One BRPE died from wounds not related to the contamination.
Pelican awaiting wash at HWCC. Note the contamination on his back and wings.

As of 27 September, we have two birds rescued from Crescent City still in care; – a BRPE with a fracture that is nearly healed, and a WEGU recovering from fishing line wounds. Both of these birds enjoy a good prognosis for release.

The Wash Hut

The first 25 birds that we rescued in the course of this response were cleaned at Humboldt State University’s Marine Wildlife Care Center, a facility maintained by the university and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN). The support of the OWCN throughout this response has been greatly appreciated. They’ve donated all the fish that these large birds consume. (Each pelican can eat more than five pounds of fish each day!)
Even more importantly in the long run, because the OWCN opened up the bird washing facility at HSU, we had the time needed to construct a small wash area at the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center.
Using as much donated material as possible, and a storage shed that was provided by HWCC, we spent well under 200 dollars. So far we have successfully washed 14 birds in this facility, happily known as the “wash hut.”

The new wash/rinse table at HWC

A bright side to this emergency is the rapid improvement made to the infrastructure at HWCC. The wash hut, the new aviaries, the pools, etc., will be a great benefit to aquatic birds who require care along the North Coast. With winter’s return so also return sea ducks, geese, grebes, and more.
Formerly, aquatic birds needing long term care, or
specialized housing had to be transported to the Bay Area, to a facility nearly 7 hours away. The added stress to the birds and

Monte Merrick (BAX),Lisa Kelsey (HWCC) and patient try out the new wash hut.

the consumption of time and resources was far from ideal. Now HWCC will be in a better position to provide care for those ducks, grebes, loons and others who are injured in some way.

The jetty at Shelter Cove – many of these birds are contaminated.
This contaminated pelican was rescued moments later.
A dead juvenile Brown Pelican on shore at Shelter Cove

Shelter Cove

In Shelter Cove the situation is also quieting down. Between 8 September and now, we have captured 17 of the 20-25 birds observed to be contaminated. 15 of these birds are pelicans, and the other 2 are Western Gulls.
One Pelican, a 2 year old, was euthanized due to a wing fracture, another pelican died in care while being treated for a compound fractured toe which had become seriously infected. One gull was euthanized due to a severe respiratory infection that had progressed beyond a treatable condition.
Ten pelicans have been released back into Shelter cove. We anticipate releasing the four remaining birds in care soon. Two pelicans may be released as soon as 29 September.

On 18 September we released the first bird rescued from that area back into the Cove. He joined a group of plunge-diving juveniles and adults and was captured on film succesfully capturing a fish by Judy Irving, who is currently working on a documentary about Brown Pelicans, titled Pelican Dreams.
On the weekend of the 24th and 25th, 9 more pelicans were released back into Shelter Cove. Several of the birds caught in this area were malnourished and required more time in care to regain lost body mass.
Of the 17 Shelter Cove birds, 1 BRPE was euthanized due to injury and 1 died, most likely due to an infection resulting from an open toe fracture. 1 WEGU was euthanized due to illness.
As we know, a life spent begging for scraps carries a high risk of injury and disease.
Incidentally, none of the rescued birds have been adults. We’ve treated 3 sub-adults while the rest have been hatch year juveniles.

The fillet table at Shelter Cove after intitial corrections.

Toward eliminating the source of
contamination in Shelter Cove, a few good steps have been taken. More needs to be done, however, before heavy use of the fillet table resumes.
Lidded cans have been added to the fillet table area, and signs cautioning sport fishers about feeding carcasses to pelicans have been posted.
Monofilament with orange caution tape streamers have been added as a deterrent above the table. However, in our experience this practice creates more entanglement risk than deterrence, and birds, pelicans and gulls have been seen inside the fillet table area while people have been cleaning

January Bill of BAX and Lucinda Adamson of HWCC

their catch since the monofilament was hung.

Grinder and Discharge Pipe

The main issue continues to be the grinder that discharges fish waste slurry into the marine waters. This appears to be at odds with both federal and state practices.

Adamson and Bill evaluate a Brown Pelican for release
Discharge pipe coming down to the ocean from the fillet table

Both the United States and California recommend that fish waste, commercial or recreational, be treated as sewage or solid waste. Preferrably fish waste should be composted wherever possible.
Many studies were completed on the feasability of composting fishwaste on small and large scales in the late 1980s, primarily as a way to eliminate the unsightly and malodorous nature of fish carcasses. These studies had very favorable findings. (here is one example)

BAX and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center will soon meet with the Board Of Commissioners of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District to discuss ways to make the
fillet table at Shelter Cove bird-safe.
Fillet tables are well-used and appreciated. Often they provide a place for sport fishers to meet and share information and good cheer. So far, we have been met with mostly positive responses to our efforts to protect the wildlife that are attracted to the cleaning stations. By and large, recreational fishers enjoy nature and the outdoors and do not wish to cause harm to such an iconic bird as the Brown Pelican, or any wildlife. Feeding wildlife is enjoyable, as enjoyable as feeding family and friends. Once people understand the harm that can come to pelicans from being fed large carcasses, they stop. No one feeds birds with intent to cause harm!
We are confident that, with cooperation, we can make the fillet table in Shelter Cove a model of sustainable fish waste management that could be used coast-wide.

Where the discharge pipe discharges.

Meanwhile, we continue to care for the impacted birds at Humboldt Wildlfie Care Center and make frequent trips to Shelter Cove to monitor the situation and attempt to rescue the remaining birds who’ve been impacted by the oily fish waste.
Volunteers are still needed at HWCC. Bird Ally X is also looking for volunteers who wish to be trained in distressed bird capture. The more people locally we have who are trained and capable of responding to wildlife emergencies the better.

And of course, none of this work can happen without money. Building materials, utilities, water, medicine, gasoline, all matter of course requirements that consume the bulk of our budgets.
Both HWCC and BAX rely on community support to rescue and care for wild lives that have been adversely affected by human activity.
For more information please visit
Bird Ally X accepts donations as

Newly released pelican surveys his old haunts at Shelter Cove from above

well. You can write to us at PO Box 1020, Arcata, CA 95518. We love mail!*

HWCC volunteers after releasing 8 Brown Pelicans, 24 Sept.
This pelican didn’t wait to be asked twice.
Lucinda Adamason of HWCC and Laura Corsiglia of BAX watch newly released Pelicans at Shelter Cove
Proposed signwork for Shelter Cove as a stopgap measure.
Buh-bye. (BRPE release 24 Sept 2011)

*please note that, while Bird Ally X is incorporated in California as a Public Benefit non-profit organization, we are still waiting for 501(c)3 status and donations to BAX are not yet tax-deductible.


2 thoughts on “North Coast Fish Waste Response (updated)

  1. wow, i love learning about the stewardship efforts you are demonstrating! thank you for your work with the pelicans and for writing about it. it is very sad to see that they are suffering like this, and i would never have known, if not for this site.

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