The following is addressed to John Yakabuski, minister of Natural Resources and Forestry:
On July 31, the Government of Ontario announced a 90-day fall hunt on double-crested cormorants when a hunter can take 15 birds a day.
As ecologists, fisheries scientists and natural resource managers, we are concerned at the lack of scientific examination associated with the announcement.
The hunt originates from, and is regulated, by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) whose mandate is to “sustainably manage Ontario’s fish and wildlife resources” and, as such, the justifications provided for cormorant management should be science-based and backed by rigorous analyses.
To sustainably manage a resource, population objectives must be identified to ensure persistence of the population through time.
No rationale is provided as to why a province-wide hunt is being adopted instead of targeted localized management approaches.
This is especially important for addressing fish populations believed to be impacted by cormorants and impacts to habitat because, if they are occurring, such impacts are a result of site- and time-specific conditions.
The U.S. Environmental Impact Statement on cormorant control rejected hunting as an option noting, “The proposed action [depredation orders] is preferable to hunting largely for ethical reasons. From purely biological and economic perspectives, hunting might prove an effective way to kill numerous DCCOs at minimal expense to the government. However, we have serious reservations about authorizing a non-traditional species to be hunted when it cannot be eaten or widely utilized and feel that there are more responsible and socially acceptable ways of dealing with migratory bird conflicts.”
This hunt departs from the two of the seven principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.
First, that wildlife should only be killed for a legitimate, non-frivolous purpose.
Second, that scientific management is the proper means for wildlife conservation.
The hunt is problematic on many other fronts. While the announcement provided an estimate of the 2019 breeding population of cormorants, no assessment was provided that identified the replaceable and sustainable level of cormorant harvest.
If 0.5 per cent of small game hunters reached the daily limit for 10 days that exceeds the estimated breeding population in Ontario. Further, there was no indication that reporting by hunters will be required, so how will the numbers of cormorants taken in a fall harvest be assessed? Without such reporting, two factors are of concern.
The first is the inability to coordinate total numbers of cormorants killed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on its proposed and probable control efforts.
Second, there will be no data on the incidental take of migratory species that look similar to double-crested cormorants in flight such as the common loon.
The fall harvest was stated to “….help address concerns about impacts to local ecosystems by cormorants, a bird that preys on fish, eating a pound a day, and that can damage trees in which they nest and roost.”
Yet, the approaches used to assess cormorant-fisheries interactions indicate that the MNRF will be unable to assess how the removal of an unknown number of cormorants from locations where no problems may even exist will be linked to the state of various fish populations across Ontario.
On that basis alone, targeted, localized management approaches must be adopted instead of a hunt.
Minister Yakabuski, we call on you and the MNRF to provide a science-based, detailed and peer-reviewed approach to resolve conflicts with cormorants. At a minimum, the report should include:
• Data on Ontario’s cormorant population (numbers of breeding birds and colonies) and population goals, including analyses on various take levels, the incorporation of ongoing management activities in the province (e.g., cull on Middle Island Point Peele National Park) and an estimate of how the population will respond to targeted localized management actions to ensure a sustainable population.
• Detailed rationales and objectives for proposed localized management activities.
• An explanation on how the MNRF will coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in managing the interior and migratory population of cormorants.
Cormorants are a species native to Ontario. A significant amount of financial resources was invested in creating a healthier environment which allowed them to recover; their abundance is a conservation success story. To avoid the species becoming endangered again, the population needs to be managed using the best practices in wildlife management and their populations carefully monitored, particularly in conjunction with the USFWS. A hunt is not the approach that should be utilized to ensure maintaining a sustainable population of cormorants in Ontario.
professor, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change