Proposed cormorant hunt: what to know and what to do

//Proposed cormorant hunt: what to know and what to do

by Jakob Mueller, OFNC Vice President

The Ontario government is considering a proposal to establish a hunting season on the Double-crested Cormorant. The details and potential effects of this proposal are a serious cause for concern. If enacted, the law will set responsible conservation back in Ontario and cause ecological harm that will take decades to reverse.

The OFNC has posted an official objection to this.

However, the OFNC is also asking its members and all concerned citizens to post a personal comment through official channels, urging the ministry to reject the proposal. Please click here and submit a comment objecting to the proposed hunt. The more people the ministry hears from, the better. This process does get results: last year we were able to stop the unsustainable and ill-advised Snapping Turtle hunt.

Time is limited. The proposal closes to public comments on January 3. The holidays are a busy time, but please take a few minutes and comment now. Your comment can be long or short, detailed or brief – that is up to you. What matters most is that your voice is heard, with as many others as possible.

If you want some more details on why the proposed hunt is bad for the ecosystem and bad conservation practice, read on. Alternately, this video covers a lot of the same points:

Ford government vs. cormorants

The planet has lost over half its wild animals in the past 40 years. Yet the Doug Ford government in Ontario has tabled a proposal that would allow hunters to kill up to 50 double crested cormorants PER DAY. Ricochet met up with Gail Fraser, an expert in avian ecology and a professor at York University to get her thoughts on the proposal. Public comments can be submitted until Jan. 3 at https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4124

Posted by Ricochet – English on Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The proposed hunting season is March 15 to December 31 – virtually all year. As cormorants fly south for the winter, this is the entire part of the year they spend in Ontario.

  • This includes nesting season, against the established wisdom of sustainable conservation management.
  • It includes nesting season for other birds – like gulls and herons – that often nest with cormorants.
  • It includes anytime you are out birding during migration – spring and fall.
  • It includes the entire summer, when you might be relaxing by a lake, or out canoeing or boating.

For that entire time, people would be legally allowed to blast away at cormorants.

The proposed bag limit is 50 birds a day. The proposed hunting season is 292 days long. This means a single person would be able to kill 14,600 cormorants in a year. The high estimate for the North American population is 2,000,000 – which means at this rate, 138 people could eradicate the species from the continent in a single year. Thankfully, cormorants outside Ontario are safe from this proposal, but it does mean that a woefully small number of people can have an enormous and rapid impact on the ecology of the province.

The proposal includes reclassifying the cormorant as a game bird, which seems disingenuous – cormorants are widely considered inedible. Acknowledging this, the proposal includes adding a provision allowing meat to spoil. This means that the birds can be shot, collected, and thrown in a dumpster.

Of particular concern is that the proposal isn’t based on studies showing a need for a hunt; in fact, no evidence is cited in support of the proposal or the way it is structured. It is a response to certain groups that have lobbied for a hunt, based solely on misinformed anecdotes and conjecture. Our natural resources should be managed based on scientific evidence to ensure their sustainability.

This isn’t a sustainable hunt for game meat; this is a legalized extermination of a native species.

Please submit a comment in opposition to this bad policy.

Again, time is limited; comments close on January 3. Please don’t wait.

How do we know this will be bad? We’ve done this before. Double-crested Cormorants are a native and naturally abundant species that declined precipitously in the middle of the 20th century. They were subject to human persecution, of course, but they were also vulnerable to the effects of DDT, which caused eggshell thinning, causing incubating parent birds to crush their own eggs. Just like Ospreys, Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and many other birds, their ability to reproduce was compromised, the population crashed, and for quite some time the birds disappeared from our ecosystem and our consciousness. The difference is that the other birds have champions; people think they are pretty, or cool, or understand that they matter to the ecosystem. Cormorants don’t really have a fan club; in fact, many people love to hate them.

After DDT was banned and the birds were protected from hunting and harassment, they started to come back – fast. The rapid appearance and population growth of the birds led some to believe they were invasive, or out of control. In reality, the birds were capitalizing on empty suitable habitat, abundant food, and the absence of major predators. (Their rebound might have been more gradual had a major predator – the Bald Eagle – not been knocked out by the same poison.) However, in the last 15 years or so, the population has stabilized, and may have even declined slightly. A stable population is a sign of natural equilibrium.

One common complaint is that they eat fish. Yes, they do; but so do Osprey and Bald Eagles, as well as loons, grebes, bitterns, herons, egrets, some ducks, mergansers, gulls, terns, kingfishers, and bigger fish, among other things. Yet the cormorant is singled out for this behaviour. It turns out that cormorants have become a significant predator of some small invasive fish species in the Great Lakes – the Round Goby and the Alewife. Suppressing populations of these invasive fish helps to reduce the unnatural pressure on native fish populations.

Another common complaint is that they kill the trees on island nesting colonies. Yes, they do. However, this is a natural effect on the ecosystem. In the bigger picture – a larger island, or an archipelago of small ones – some tree cover is being killed, while others will have regenerating vegetation. Different habitats on these islands create different opportunities for different species. This study found that while some insects declined after nesting cormorants changed the habitat, others thrived. This is biodiversity in action. See The imact of nesting cormorants onplant and arthropod diversity

Other complaints are increasingly spurious and subjective. “Aesthetics” is actually a reason cited in the proposal. Sound ecological management is not.

Cormorants are (and should continue to be) a naturally abundant species. Perceived abundance does not equate to overpopulation. There are many native species that used to be common – and ought to be common again. Just because something appears to be common doesn’t even mean it can be hunted sustainably.

Very, very few animals could be sustainable if every person with a game licence could kill 14,600 per year.

We don’t get to pick and choose the ones we like, or think are pretty. All native species matter in the ecosystem. Conservation is challenging enough, so let’s not make it worse. Please tell the ministry to reject this proposal before January 3:

Thank you for taking the time.

2019-03-07T13:38:20+00:00 December 28th, 2018|Conservation|

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