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Great Lakes Article:

Voracious bird must be culled, fishermen say
Fish-eating cormorants

Sarah Schmidt
National Post

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 in 1969.

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 fish.

"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.

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