The Plight of Cormorants and Co-nesting Species

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Double crested cormorants are fish eating birds native to Ontario that have in recent years, made a remarkable comeback after nearly being completely eliminated decades ago by exposure to the now banned pesticide DDT. You would think that the recovery of a species population due to a cleaner environment would be hailed as a great achievement, but unfortunately for the cormorants, they became too successful too quickly.

Within a few years, their Ontario population increased into the hundreds of thousands and sports fishers took notice. It was hard not to because cormorants nest in large colonies on the ground or in the trees. The accumulation of ammonia rich guano often results in death of the trees making the colonies an eyesore to recreational users of the waterways.

A great debate arose as to whether or not the cormorant population was negatively impacting the sports fishery. That debate continues on other sites and venues but for Earthroots’ purposes it suffices to say that the “cormorants-are-bad” position clearly became politically dominant, leading the Government of Ontario to pass a very unwise and disturbing regulation relating to cormorants in July of 2020.

The regulation creates a  “hunting season” for cormorants from September 15 to December 15 each year. Each shooter can kill up to 15 cormorants per day. It is hard to term these shooters “hunters” because they don’t eat the birds and the carcasses can be legally left to rot. Those aspects should be an affront to anyone who believes in sportsmanship. So it is not a “hunt” and neither is it a “cull” because a cull is a population reduction done with a thoughtful plan and a target objective. This regulation is just an open invitation to “blast the birds.” There is no reporting requirement or monitoring program.

This initiative is wrong and Earthroots has joined a coalition to continue to object to the regulation (cormorantdefenders.ca). But above and beyond this coalition, there is a further biodiversity aspect to this campaign that must be pursued.

Cormorant colonies attract other colonial co-nesting species like black crowned night herons and Caspian terns. With shooters given license to blast the birds even in and around their colonies (although admittedly not during nesting), what is the impact of that blasting on these rarer more sensitive co-nesters? Is the government ministry monitoring this? Has a university been funded to do the biological work? As far as we know the answers to both these questions are negative.

Add to that concern the unfortunate fact that cormorants in flying silhouette look very much like our cherished common loons which, of course, are supposed to be protected. What is the collateral kill of loons in these bird blasting jamborees? Is anyone out looking for loon corpses among the carcasses? We think not!

We currently have no independent funding to support pursuing the government to step up to their responsibility to monitor and assess the impacts on broader biodiversity of this reckless regulation. Please consider helping us.

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