A protected bird has eaten its way into disfavour
among recreational anglers and tour operators in the
Great Lakes region, who say it's time to kill some
of the fish-eating cormorants.
A quiet campaign to convince the Ontario Ministry
of Natural Resources to lift the double-crested cormorant's
protected status has boiled over on Manitoulin Island,
where locals want the once-rare bird classified as
a common crow or pest with no closed hunting season.
"There's no known benefit. We're not out to see them
destroyed or annihilated, but we do want to see the
stocks brought back down," said Jim Sloss, spokesman
for United Fish and Game Clubs on the island.
Mr. Sloss is part of a province-wide push for an
annual government cull of adult birds and an oil of
cormorant eggs, a politically charged request that
pits commerce against the environment.
The double-crested cormorant has undergone a population
explosion since the 1970s. The bird, which began colonizing
in the Great Lakes nearly 100 years ago, faced extinction
from high levels of contaminants, particularly DDT.
The bird population rebounded once DDT was banned
Environment Canada estimated there were more than
80,000 cormorants in the Great Lakes at end of the
1990s, up from 200 in the early 1970s. Current estimates
put the number of birds at 350,000.
The voracious birds surface-dive for fish.
Fish-eating birds, and cormorants in particular,
arouse suspicion and hostility among anglers, who
believe they consume large quantities of desirable
"It's such an economic issue from a tourism point
of view. What we have is the Great Lakes and our natural
benefit, but we're losing our fishery. Tourists come
here for sports fishing, and they golf and shop and
go out to dinner," Mr. Sloss said.
In May, 2000, the provincial Ministry of Natural
Resources unveiled a five-year cormorant program to
examine the effects of the bird on fish and wildlife
populations and sensitive vegetation.
Barry Radford, a ministry spokesman, said data have
been collected, but a decision has not yet been made
Mark Holmes, spokesman for the Ontario Federation
of Anglers and Hunters, said it is time for the provincial
government to initiate its own control program. He
estimates the cormorant annually consume about 20
million kilograms of fish in the Great Lakes.
"If they were a commercial fishery, they'd be shut
down immediately," Mr. Holmes said.
Gregor Beck, director of conservation and science
at the Ontario Federation of Naturalists, said it's
too simple to blame fish-eating birds. He said there
are too many uncertainties to determine a single cause
to any problem.