The following is in response to the letter No science behind fall cormorant hunt which appeared Aug. 11
To the editor:
Opponents of cormorant control are a vocal minority. They ignore the ecological destruction of overabundant cormorant populations in Ontario, and mislead the public and decision-makers by cherry-picking and distorting scientific research and assessment.
This crusade has blurred the lines between fact and fiction, has contributed to the mismanagement of cormorants in Ontario, and left irreparably damaged ecosystems in its wake.
Unlike the professor’s collection of popular opinions, most of my environmental knowledge and opinions are from experience and observations specific to this area.
I was born and have lived 77 years within a mile of Lake Nipissing. I was born into a commercial bait fishing business, worked much of my life on this Lake, operated a shoreline business for a few years, and still hold the commercial fishing licence.
From the 1940s to the late ’90s, I never saw a cormorant. When they appeared here in the late 1990s we assumed they were an invasive species.
I have since read that Ontario’s first record of a cormorant was in Lake of the Woods in 1798. The earliest recorded nesting pairs were seen on Black Bay in Lake Superior in 1913, and Lake Huron in 1931. Cormorants then, began an eastward expansion, colonizing all Canadian waters of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence by 1945.
I found no record of them north of the Great Lakes during that occupation and no record of significant ecological damage before they disappeared about 1970, presumed because of DDT in fish. They may not qualify as “invasive,” but are they a “native species” or a repeat invader?
The professor quotes a U.S. report that “wildlife should only be killed for a legitimate purpose.” I agree. Saving depletion of other species and preventing destruction of habitat is a legitimate purpose. We kill other pests like rats and mosquitos for less.
My concern is sustainably managing all our resources, not this one threat to our eco system at the cost of others. The professor suggests localized management. I assume the reason for a “province-wide hunt” rather than each small area is the fact that they consume most of the food, poison their nesting sites and kill all vegetation with their acidic feces then simply expand into a surrounding area for a few years until that’s no longer suitable. It’s a continuous migration.
Her mention of inability to co-ordinate number killed with U.S. Fish & Wildlife is a non-issue. The only reason anybody would invest time and money hunting cormorants would be to benefit the environment. They can be eaten, but are no delicacy. Nobody will hunt them where they are scarce.
Anybody who couldn’t distinguish a cormorant from a duck wouldn’t be licensed to hunt in Ontario. The professor says they are “indistinguishable from a loon.” Not by anybody who’s ever seen either bird on a lake. Apparently, they were a periodic “native species,” but nobody missed them when they were gone for a few decades. Their recovery is no success for anything else in the eco system. Environmental activists state that cormorants eat mostly “coarse fish.” So do the game fish we cherish.
She mentions significant resources to create a healthier environment, Replacing DDT was to save many species. I doubt this extremely destructive bird was ever desired.
I have no scientific data of their effect on this lake, but from my observation I believe bait fish populations, a principal food source for the game fish and the source of much of my lifetime income until the cormorants arrived have been reduced by 75 to 80 per cent in the three decades since their arrival/return.
I can only wonder if this drastic depletion in bait fish, some of which utilize algae as a food source might contribute to the problem with blue green algae in Nipissing and many other lakes the past decade.
Cormorants’ major decline during the 1950s and 1960s was attributed to DDT in fish. In 1972, The National Audubon Society listed the double-crested cormorant as a species of special concern. The state of Wisconsin declared cormorants endangered and began building nesting structures to help them return.
In the late 1970s, a second rebound began across much of the US. The largest breeding populations (Canadian/U.S. interior, Atlantic Coast 80 per cent of total) increased from approximately 32,000 pairs in the early 1970s to 226,000 pairs in the late 1990s, and now assumed in the millions spreading north into Canada. They are now a serious threat to many lakes in Ontario.