Cormorant harassment starts early
By Mike Ackerman
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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