abundance of wildlife is often the goal of conservationists, but, when
abundance becomes over abundance, a good news story quickly turns into bad news
for the environment. Such is the case of cormorants plaguing the Great Lakes
basin of North America.
More than 350,000 of the fish eating birds invade the Great Lakes basin
every year to feed and breed. Over the course of their stay of about 120 days
these voracious birds consume an average of a pound of fish a day. The net
effect is over 42 million pounds of fish consumed by cormorants.
In areas where cormorant colonies have been established research has shown
drastic reduction in fish populations. In some cases the effect on aquatic
ecosystems is so severe that recovery may take years or may not occur at all.
Terrestrial damage to trees and shoreline habitat is also well documented in
the vicinity of cormorant colonies.
Worse yet is potential impact cormorants’ may have on invading species.
Research indicates that, where the birds have removed native species of fish,
exotic species will move into the void in numbers that may effectively thwart
recolonization by native species.
Cormorant overpopulation and its effects are well documented, and the
provincial government has been urged to conduct research and implement
immediate controls to stem the population explosion.
Among the most effective management strategies may be the removal of
unnecessary legislative protections for the bird. Combined with adequate
research, regulatory changes allowing cormorants to be treated as a pest
species, numbers could be reduced to levels considered sustainable in the Great
Cormorant populations have grown to historically high numbers in the Great
Lakes region due to a number of factors including the development of many large
fish farms in areas of the southern US where the birds winter. Readily
available and plentiful winter food has increased survival rates for
cormorants. Combined with improving environmental conditions including the
reduction in use of pesticides like DDT, cormorant populations have soared.
However, management efforts have come under fire from animal rights
advocates, and, leery of the public relations spectacle, the government of
Ontario appears to be opting for a weak and piecemeal approach to the cormorant
Egg oiling and extremely limited research appear to be the extent of the
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources cormorant management program which has
been posted on the government’s Environmental Bill of Rights web site for
public comment. The M.N.R. wants to have strong science to make decision on
cormorants but the plan as suggested in the government’s proposal will not
allow research to be conducted in any meaningful way.
The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is lobbying vigorously for a
meaningful control program before the cormorant situation worsens with more