Ontario wants to allow hunters to shoot double-crested cormorants. The idea is welcomed by sport anglers who think the fish-eating birds are destructive in the Great Lakes. The proposal from the Ministry of Natural Resources also claims the birds are a threat to commercial fishing.
The plan would allow a licensed hunter in Ontario to shoot 50 cormorants a day during the open season that would run from March 15 to December 31. Ontario also wants hunters to be able to leave the dead birds where they fall, rather than be required to retrieve their kill.
Double-crested cormorants have been controversial in both Canada and the U.S. for decades. Government agencies in both countires have used lethal force to reduce the bird’s population across the Great Lakes. However, there has never been a legal hunt for cormorants in the region since it was added to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1972.
Anglers say without control through management or hunting, cormorants will destroy fishing in places where the birds nest by the thousands. The debate has been heating up in the U.S. too, where sport fishing groups are urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do more to curb the population.
Cormorants exploded in numbers in the Great Lakes during the latter part of the 20th century, reaching their peak around 2007. Control measures, which include shooting birds and oiling eggs so the chicks never emerge, have more than cut the population in half in some places.
Advocates for control of the birds warn they will explode in number again. Last winter the Michigan Department of Natural Resources told the U.S Congress that cormorant numbers jumped up by 85 percent in just two years in the Les Cheneaux Islands, a place where the birds have harmed perch fishing.
Ornithologists say the population cannot return to the high numbers seen a decade ago because there is so little food for the birds in the Great Lakes. A new report from researchers at the University of Minnesota on cormorant numbers is expected at the end of the month.
Public comment on the proposal in Ontario is open until January 3rd.