Those Dang Fish-Eating Cormorants Are At It Again

Cormorants are an ugly bird. Maybe that's why they get blamed for killing all the fish in a body of water. Sure, cormorants eat fish. But so do herons, egrets, bitterns, loons, mergansers, grebes, terns, ospreys, eagles, kingfishers, gulls, and pelicans. Why don't we set our sights on those birds when it comes time to point the blame at a bird eater for the population drop of small fish in our favorite lake?

I recently read an article castigating those that were placing blame on the cormorants for creating a sub-par fishery on a lake near my home. The story – Click Here – noted Department of Natural Resource studies that failed to show a decline in fish populations and blamed the weather for the poor fishing.

On Leech Lake in north-central Minnesota cormorants were targeted for population reduction when the walleye fishing soured – Click Here – and along with an aggressive stocking program the walleyes have made a strong comeback. Was it the stocking or the cormorant culling that aided the fishery? Maybe both.

On Lake Huron the cormorants were culled in areas where their population increased and it looks like that made a positive impact on the fishing. Check out this link – Click Here – for the results on that effort.

So maybe the cormorant is to blame for the huge reductions in fish populations on some waters. The images on this web site – Click Here – do make a case for thinning the cormorant populations on some lakes.

I hear it a lot regarding Chequamegon Bay, a fishery I spend a lot of time on that's near my summer cabin. The perch fishing on this Lake Superior bay used to be world class and now it is considered a marginal fishery. This has been the case since the cormorants began increasing their numbers there and are showing up in huge pods near shallow regions diving non-stop for hours in search of food.

I heard the guides on Lake of the Woods last summer crying about the huge numbers of cormorants on the lake now and how the insatiable appetites they demonstrate are decimating the small walleyes and perch that are now getting harder to find.

On Oneida Lake in New York the cormorants are being targeted – Click Here – due to the drop in walleye and perch numbers and it looks like this will have a positive affect on the fish numbers.

The problem here is that cormorants are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and their nests and eggs cannot be disturbed, and the birds cannot be captured or shot, unless a depredation permit is first obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. According tho their web site – Click Here – "Can large colonies of cormorants reduce local populations of catchable-size pan fish like sunfish and rockbass, or sportfish like smallmouth bass, walleye pike, or yellow perch sufficiently to compete with anglers? Recreational and commercial anglers in some locations in the Great Lakes basin believe they can. Until biologists obtain additional information, the answer to this question remains unclear."

AND, "Although it is not the current policy of the Service to issue depredation permits to reduce cormorant predation on sport fish, permit requests may be considered under unique circumstances. Any significant policy changes must be based on sound science, and would be implemented only after coordination with appropriate federal and state resource agencies and the concerned public."

What it comes down to is that the cormorants are going to keep increasing in population and if they are adversely affecting a fishery it will be a long time before that changes. They might be ugly, but that's not enough for the feds to justify accelerating their demise.

Categories: Tim Lesmeister

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