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Great Lakes Article:

Cormorant controls encouraged

Order would let states use lethal force

By Peter Rebhahn
Green Bay Press Gazette
January 13, 2001

Double-crested cormorant

Length: 27 inches

Wingspan: 50 inches

Weight: Adults weigh 4 to 5 pounds

Background: One of six cormorant species nationwide and 38 worldwide. They nest along the coast from southwest Alaska to Mexico, and on lakes from north-central Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Description: Both sexes’ dark plumage bears a greenish gloss. Slender, hooked bills, with webbed feet set well back on their body, orange facial skin and an orange throat pouch. Juveniles have gray or tan plumage.

Breeding habitat: Breed in colonies ranging from several pairs to thousands. They build their nests of twigs and branches beginning in April. Adults are ready to breed at age 3 or 4. Eggs are laid in mid- to late April and hatch about 25 days later. A typical nest has two or three chicks.

Diet: Adults eat an average of 1 pound of fish per day — mostly small, bottom-dwelling or schooling forage fish. They rely on many species of fish, but concentrate on those that are easiest to catch.

To comment

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will accept comments on a plan to manage cormorant populations through Feb. 28. Mail to the service’s Division of Migratory Bird Management, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 634, Arlington, VA 22203. Fax comments to (703) 358-2272.

ASHWAUBENON — The thousands of double-crested cormorants that called the bay of Green Bay home last summer are living it up now in the warmth and sunshine of the southern U.S. coast.

It’s a good thing for the cormorants, too, because Monday night wasn’t a good time to be a cormorant in Green Bay.

“A cormorant is nothing but a flying rat,” said Green Bay resident Ken Murray. “Some way, they have to be controlled.”

Murray was one of about a dozen people who aired similar views at a meeting on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to manage cormorant populations nationwide. All but one asked for tough population controls. The meeting here was the first of 10 listening sessions scheduled from Portland, Ore. to Burlington, Vt., in coming weeks. About 65 people attended Monday’s meeting.

Fish and Wildlife has proposed a management plan whose centerpiece is a “Public Resource Depredation Order.”

The order would let states, tribes and federal agencies use lethal force to control the birds, which are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Management of migratory birds falls under the aegis of Fish and Wildlife, not state agencies such as Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources.

Double-crested cormorants are native to North America but not the Great Lakes. They moved into the Great Lakes basin in the early 1900s, then nearly vanished in the 1960s when the pesticide DDT cut nesting success to near zero. Fish and Wildlife biologists estimate cormorant nests increased an average of 29 percent every year in the 1970s and 1980s. Recent estimates peg the U.S. and Canadian population at 2 million birds.

Cormorants eat fish. Growing numbers of the birds have sparked calls for population controls from sport and commercial fishermen in Great Lake states. Many fishermen believe cormorants are a factor in the steep decline of yellow perch in the bay of Green Bay, though studies so far don’t support the claim.

Fish and Wildlife considered six management plans before recommending a middle-of-the-road course. The simplest plan called for no change in current management. The most extreme would have created a hunting season on the birds.

No one who spoke at Monday’s meeting said they liked the idea of a hunting season.

“We’re not asking for a hunting season because you can’t use the resource,” said Pete Petrouske, a member of the Brown County Conservation Alliance and a backer of population control.

Suamico commercial fisherman Tom Peters told federal regulators they’d made a mess of things.

“If there were experts in this, we wouldn’t have this problem now,” he said. “The only experts we need are experts out there with shotguns to control them.”

Rick Johnson, a commercial fisherman from Gills Rock, at the tip of northern Door County, said the birds had created an economic hardship for fishermen.

“I feel strongly that Wisconsin needs control for cormorants,” said Johnson, president of the Northeast Wisconsin Commercial Fishermen Association.

Blames exotic species

Just one person, Green Bay resident Mark Tweedale, spoke against population controls.

Tweedale said studies suggest that exotic species, not cormorants, are to blame for the decline of yellow perch in the bay.

Tweedale has lived on the Green Bay shoreline for 27 years. Overall, he said, the bay’s fishery is healthy. He compared the “majesty” of big flocks of cormorants foraging for fish with similar sites from the Florida Everglades.

“I say leave well enough alone, but I think I’m probably a lone wolf here,” Tweedale said.

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