Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Cormorant controls favored at hearing

Correspondent

Green Bay, Wis. Most people who testified at a Jan. 7 hearing
favored some sort of control on double-crested cormorants.

About a dozen people put their opinions on record that day in
Green Bay, one of 10 hearings held in nine states and the District
of Columbia to gather input on cormorant issues. The testimony is
intended to be used to develop a nationwide cormorant strategy by
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

All but one of those who spoke favored controlling the
fish-eating cormorants. Many blamed them for the decline of yellow
perch on Green Bay. Others said they consume too many salmon and
trout fingerlings in Lake Michigan bays, harbors and rivers, or
drive out commercial species like whitefish off northern Door
County.

Before the meeting, Bob Garfinkel, of Bob’s Bait and Tackle in
Green Bay, said he’s heard from anglers concerned about cormorants
eating yellow perch, smelt, juvenile trout and salmon and even
baitfish.

He’s also had customers tell him cormorants have invaded inland
waters like the Lake Winnebago system.

Sport anglers aren’t the only ones affected. Door County
commercial fisherman Charlie Henriksen said that cormorants drive
whitefish from spring and early summer feeding grounds and are
destroying islands.

“Any time whitefish come in to 60 feet or less, they’re marked
up real bad,” Henriksen said. “They used to stay shallow for weeks
at a time, and now the cormorants drive them right out.”

As for the islands, “What they’ve done to them is disgusting,”
Henriksen said. “While the bird may indeed deserve some protection,
I think our publicly-owned islands deserve some protection,
too.”

Besides denuding islands of vegetation, one study found high
levels of PCBs, DDT and mercury in the guano (cormorant dung) and
soil. The birds also have displaced herons and egrets on
islands.

DNR fisheries biologist Paul Peeters is one of five members on
the state’s cormorant team. He said the public can still comment in
writing through Feb. 28.

“This is not the time to hold back,” Peeters said. “It’s time to
follow through.”

Last year, the FWS released a draft statement for review that
will guide development of a nationwide strategy for cormorants. It
analyzes options for managing a booming population to reduce
conflicts with anglers, commercial aquaculture and other
activities.

Of six alternatives, the FWS is proposing to go with the fourth
one that creates a new depredation order allowing state, tribal and
federal land agencies to implement a cormorant management
program.

One insider said if the DNR has to take on that role, it will
take away money from other fisheries programs still on the back
burner.

The Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council is recommending the fifth
and sixth alternatives.

One would entail regional population reduction, such as lethal
control at nesting and roosting sites without adversely affecting
other migratory birds or endangered species. The other would
establish frameworks for a cormorant hunting season.

Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council president Dan Thomas said
harassing cormorants only causes them to move to a new island or
another colony, and the growth in numbers continues.

No one spoke in favor of a hunting season.

“We’re not asking for a hunting season because you can’t use the
resource,” said Pete Petrouske, a member of the Brown County
Conservation Alliance.

Mark Tweedale of Green Bay was the lone voice against controls.
He said studies suggest that exotics, not cormorants, are to blame
for the decline of yellow perch in the bay.

He also compared the big flocks of cormorants foraging for fish
with similar sites from the Florida Everglades.

“I say leave well enough alone,” said Tweedale, who has lived
along the Green Bay shoreline for 27 years long enough to see the
birds come back from just dozens of pairs to thousands.

Cormorants have been federally protected by the Migratory Bird
Treaty Act since 1972, when they were given protection after
numbers dropped drastically due to use of DDT, killings by humans
and the overall declining health of many ecosystems, especially
that of the Great Lakes.

Today, the FWS admits the population is at historic highs due to
ample food in their summer and winter ranges, federal and state
protection, and reduced contaminant levels.

Between 1970 and 1991, in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. and
Canada, the number of double-crested cormorant nests increased from
89 to 38,000, with an average annual increase of 29 percent. By
1997, the Great Lakes population had reached 93,000 pairs. The
total population in the U.S. and Canada has been estimated at two
million birds.

Anyone wishing to comment on cormorants may do so until Feb. 28
by writing: Division of Migratory Bird Management, USFWS, 4401 N.
Fairfax Drive, Room 634, Arlington, VA 22203, or by faxing (703)
358-2272. The FWS’s e-mail system and web site has been temporarily
closed by court order.

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