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Great Lakes Article:

Cormorant harassment starts early
By Mike Ackerman
Oneida Dispatch

SYLVAN BEACH - A "cormorant harassment program" developed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation began in 1998 and, according to DEC Commissioner Erin M. Crotty, has been extremely effective in reducing numbers of the non-native waterfowl species on Oneida Lake.

The DEC is using a mixture of non-lethal tactics like noise-makers, streamers, lasers and strobe lights on the lake's islands, where migrating, double-crested cormorants usually roost.

The program begins in late summer and into early fall, a time when large populations of birds visit the area. The program began last week, earlier than usual, in an attempt to further protect walleye pike and perch populations in the lake.

According to the Oneida Lake Association, from 1991 to 1997, cormorants ate about two-thirds of walleye yearlings in the lake.

According to the association's data, the walleye class of 1991 was predicted to produce more than 400,000 adult walleyes. Instead, only 140,000 are estimated to have reached maturity.

Many fishermen on Oneida Lake have reported very small catches of the legal size limit of walleye (18 inches).

In 1996, there was an estimated 1.2 million yellow perch in Oneida Lake. From 1994 to 1996, anglers took an estimated 300,000 perch, or jacks as the adult species is sometimes called. It is estimated the cormorant took in excess of 500,000 in that time.

"New York state will continue to work with our partners as we seek to reduce the number of cormorants that can have negative environmental, economic and recreational impacts," said Crotty. "As the DEC re-commences non-lethal prevention measures to reduce the number of migrating cormorants this fall, we thank lake residents and visitors for their ongoing cooperation."

Crotty says cormorant population reduction will be achieved through this method, also known as "hazing." The program is being conducted by biologists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's wildlife services group and researchers at Cornell University's Schackleton Point facility.

Cornell will also be involved in monitoring future changes in cormorant and fish populations. This monitoring will measure the impact of the cormorant control efforts and provide a basis for continuing or modifying management strategies to enable walleye and perch population recovery.

Cornell research indicates that the bulk of cormorant feeding on walleye occurs during the fall migration.

This year the start date was advanced to afford further protection to fish populations. Hazing is being done on weekdays in order to minimize conflicts with recreational users of the lake.

DEC Region Seven Wildlife Manager Marie Kaupz said the increase in cormorant populations on Oneida Lake is a result of the zebra mussel population improving the lake's water clarity.

"Clearer water makes it easier for the birds to see the fish and Oneida Lake is a great feeding spot for the cormorant," said Kaupz. "The program has been pretty effective in reducing the birds' numbers so far."

The hazing will go on through the end of September. Kaupz says by then most cormorants move south.

"Their population has been growing throughout the Northeast and the Great Lakes region." she said, mainly due to the affects of the zebra mussel.

In the association's recent issue of "The Oneida Lake Bulletin" the association says hazing doesn't go far enough.

According to data compiled by the Oneida Lake Association, more than 350,000 walleye and 2 million perch were destroyed in 2001 alone. The association also estimates that millions of dollars have been lost at marinas, bait shops, motels and cottage rentals due to the cormorant.

Ed Beickert, a member of the Oneida Lake Impact Committee and a former member of the Oneida Lake Association feels the hazing program only works to a certain degree and he says he can't find any hard evidence that the program is totally effective.

"Maybe it's working on the islands but it's not on the east shore," said Beickert. "All they're doing..." he says of some efforts along the east shore to drive cormorants out, "... is exercising the cormorants' wings.

"The birds take off from here and land somewhere else."

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