Cormorant management stymied by federal judge

Who owns double-crested cormorants? 

The federal government manages them, just like they manage ducks, hummingbirds, monarch butterflies and black-footed ferrets. If a species regularly migrates from one state to another or from a foreign country to the USA, it falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If a species in decline is listed under the Endangered Species Act, whether it’s migratory or not, it too becomes the concern of the “Feds.”

Cormorants are federal birds times two. They migrate country to country and state to state each spring and fall and back in the 1970s when there were only a few hundred cormorants left in the Great Lakes area, none in Michigan, they garnered federal protection through the Endangered Species Act. 

That’s changed. Once DDT, PCBs and other toxins were outlawed, cormorants staged a massive comeback. A few hundred became a few thousand, a few thousand became tens of thousands and now guestimates put the population in the Great Lakes area alone at 600,000. 

Cormorants eat fish. All kinds of fish. Rough fish, bait fish, baby salmon, gizzard shad, perch, smallmouth bass and others slide down their throats to the tune of a pound or more each day. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist (or a fisheries biologist) to understand that removing up to 1 million pounds of fish from the Great Lakes every day for nine months per year has an impact on fish populations. You aren’t going to catch a walleye already eaten by a cormorant. A walleye isn’t going to eat a shiner or goby already eaten by a cormorant. 

When it became apparent cormorant populations had gone from too few to too many, their managers (USFWS) became whimps. Instead of handling the issue, they passed the jurisdiction to the states to handle. In Michigan $100,000 is spent by the DNR annually to curb cormorant problems. I’m sure it helps but the problem didn’t go away. At best it slowed the growth of cormorant flocks.  

Now a federal judge has ruled the USFWS can’t do that. It can’t allow states to shoot, oil eggs or otherwise curb the problem of excessive cormorant populations. So cormorants and the management of cormorants are now, once again under the purview of the Feds. 

Time will tell, but I’m thinking this is not a good thing.

Categories: Import

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