Cormorant Issues

Threats to Cormorants

dead cormorant in water2Unfortunately, many people view the return of cormorants as abnormal and claim that cormorants are out of control. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A great deal of misinformation about cormorants has been spread by anglers and wildlife managers fueling an organized war against the birds on both sides of the US/Canada border. Cormorant Defenders International was formed to respond to this assault on cormorants and to respond to the many erroneous claims made about them.

The most significant threat to Double-crested Cormorants in Ontario’s parks and protected areas are the very agencies charged with their protection! In Canada, those agencies are Point Pelee National Park & Parks Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR). Parks Canada and the OMNR oversee three locations that are home to Ontario’s largest cormorant colonies. Parks Canada controls Middle Island in Lake Erie, while the ONMR controls East Sister Island in Lake Erie and High Bluff Island in Lake Ontario.

Middle Island Point Pelee National Park

The cormorant colony on Middle Island, a tiny speck of land in Lake Erie that became part of Point Pelee National Park in 2000, is threatened. A mass kill of the island’s naturally occurring Double-crested cormorant population began in 2008 and will continue for a number of years.

The plan to almost wipe out the birds on the island was scheduled to be in full swing in 2008, but a CDI legal challenge in federal court delayed it considerably resulting in less than 250 birds being killed, instead of the many thousands that were originally targeted.

CDI representatives observed the cull from boats positioned next to Middle Island and from a land-based station on neighboring Pelee Island. Since 2008, they have killed an estimated 15,000 birds and intend to continue culling into the future with no end in sight.

The park claims the kill is necessary to save Middle Island’s vegetation, but changes to the composition of vegetation are part of the natural process of succession experienced wherever colonial birds are found.

The cormorants pose no threat whatsoever to the survival of any plant or animal species and Middle Island is one of the few locations available where cormorants can colonize.

High Bluff Island Presqu’ile Provincial Park

In 2008, a new cull of the cormorant colony on High Bluff Island was proposed that would take place over the next 10 years. The park claimed the cormorants are destroying the island and wiping out a unique forest environment, but their claims lack scientific legitimacy. Due to the work done by Cormorant Defenders International to expose the cruelty of their culling operation and by challenging the management program with solid science, culling stopped and there are no plans in the foreseeable future to cull cormorants in the park.

Double-crested cormorants are a native Ontario water bird and a part of the natural ecology of Middle Island and High Bluff Island, both world renowned bird sanctuaries. The proposals to manage them are ill-conceived, short sighted, a waste of resources and enormously cruel.

The Myths Perpetuated by Anglers

Recently, the sport fishing industry has been pressuring the Ontario government and various US state governments to drastically reduce cormorant numbers. In Ontario, tens of thousands have already been killed during their most vulnerable time – nesting season.

Scientific research has repeatedly proven that cormorants have no substantial negative ecological impact on fish populations. In fact, the majority of their diet is alewife and round goby, both introduced species that have disrupted Great Lake’s ecosystems. Regardless, the Ontario government and other jurisdictions are continuing to kill cormorants – to pacify a small but aggressive special interest lobby.

Ultimately, cormorants have little, if any, effect on sport fish populations and the death of a percentage of trees in their nesting colonies is part of a natural process of succession. But because they are fish eaters, the sport fishing industry has been quick to condemn them, just like hawks, owls, ospreys, loons, herons, egrets and other birds were in the past.

The Myths Perpetuated by Wildlife Managers

corm spread wing photoDouble-crested cormorants are being blamed for killing trees and other vegetation, so some wildlife managers want to see their numbers reduced. They want to maintain existing levels of vegetation, even though changes in vegetative cover occur in bird colonies the world over and is a natural process.

While managers propose to kill cormorants, their plans seem to ignore the fact that if habitat is available and attractive to cormorants, then the vacancies created by killing birds will only be filled by new birds. They also seem to ignore the fact that cormorants are native birds that are repopulating areas they were extirpated from in the past. Their return is a good news environmental event. The only way that reducing numbers can work to maintain existing levels of vegetation is by an on-going process of killing birds and/or the widespread slaughter of cormorants throughout the Great Lakes basin.

Slaughtering a native water bird species is unscientific, unethical and unnecessary. It is clearly not the best way to use the limited budgets of fish and wildlife departments or provincial and national parks.

Why Parks Canada and the OMNR should leave the Cormorant Colonies alone!

  • The return of cormorants, a native wildlife species, to the Great Lakes basin, including Middle Island and High Bluff Island, is part of a natural process.
  • Changes in the composition of vegetation in and around bird colonies, everywhere in the world, are a sign of a vibrant, evolving natural ecosystem.
  • The presence of cormorants benefits other colonial water birds, such as herons and egrets, both of which are stable or growing where cormorants are found.
  • There is no scientific evidence that reducing or eradicating cormorants will be beneficial. In fact, culling cormorants may force other bird species to vacate the colony sites they share.
  • Culls are not effective unless they are carried on indefinitely, for culls do not reduce the local area’s desirability to cormorants, or its carrying capacity. Barring massive slaughter, the rate of cormorant population growth may actually accelerate in response to lethal control measures.
  • Cormorants are beneficial because the majority of their diet is often primarily invasive species such as alewives and round gobies, as well as other non-commercial species.
  • There is no way to cull cormorants humanely. Past culls in other regions have resulted in large numbers of injured and crippled birds being left to die of their wounds or starve to death, including nestlings.
  • Parks Canada and the OMNR should protect ecosystems, but they should not do so through the removal or slaughter of native wildlife species that they have arbitrarily decided are undesirable.
  • Parks Canada and the OMNR are under-funded. Instead of wasting funds on programs that interfere with natural processes, they should be directed to legitimate concerns in the park, such as enforcement of laws protecting rarer species.
  • The Parks Canada and OMNR claim that Double-crested cormorants are somehow unnatural, unwanted and that natural processes, evident in bird colonies throughout the world, need to be controlled is unscientific and irrational.