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'No science' to back up cormorant hunt claims, northern Ontario property owners say

The much-maligned cormorant may be getting some help from an unlikely source: cottagers on Georgian Bay.

'An idiotic idea' to cull cormorants, director of cottagers association says

The double-crested cormorant has a reputation for being a voracious eater, capable of depleting fish stocks. (Terence Hayes)
Cottage owners in northern Ontario are saying this hunting season could be causing some trouble this year 6:56

The much-maligned cormorant may be getting some help from an unlikely source: cottagers on Georgian Bay.

The Georgian Bay Association, a group representing approximately 3,000 property owners, is calling on the provincial government to cancel a proposed cull of the bird in September.

Rupert Kindersley, the executive director of the association, said there's too much concern for public safety – hunters would likely be out on open water –  as well as the obvious environmental impact of having hunters killing 15 birds a day.

"We think it's an idiotic idea which has been dreamed up based on inaccurate perceptions of what cormorants do to the ecosystem," he said. 

The group has already managed to get some concessions from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, which dropped the limit from 50 birds per day down to 15.

But the cull is expected to go ahead, starting September 15 and running until December 31.

The gawky, black bird has often been criticized for depleting local fish populations and damaging the landscape with their acidic droppings.

And the bird isn't, for all intents and purposes, edible, Kindersley said, and there's no doubt that a colony of cormorants can, over time, reduce the amount of foliage on a small island.

"Now, there are certain areas where they're more of a nuisance, where their nesting habits will destroy some vegetation and trees. Grey Herons do the same thing, by the way, but no one is proposing a [hunt] on them," he said.

"So I understand that it's unsightly, but really that's highly localized and very minor and it's not a sufficient justification for a hunt." 

Some researchers says that cormorant colonies, like this one on Georgian Bay, create suitable habitat for terns, herons and gulls. (Terence Hayes)

Kindersley said his group has offered up five independent studies on cormorants to back up their claims. Those fall in line with what researchers from the Animal Alliance of Canada and several conservation groups have said.

"But there is really no justification at all based on any harm that people believe that cormorants are doing to our fish stocks, because there's absolutely no proof that they do any harm at all," he said. "There's no scientific studies that link depletions of wild fish stocks to rises in cormorants' numbers."

Kindersley said the cormorants have a voracious appetite, but are usually after the slower-moving fish, including invasive species like the Round Goby and Zebra Mussels.

"We have a highly complex ecosystem at the moment, which seems to be changing every year because of these invasive species," he said. "They're adjusting the system and having a big impact on them."

"So it's very important to understand what's going on before you make decisions like this. And this is being done without properly researching what's going on."

But the MNRF says that the impact of cormorants on fish populations is well-documented, and is fully engaged in current research.

In an emailed statement, the MNRF said based on its 2019 nest-count surveys, an estimated 143,000 breeding cormorants in 344 colonies are spread across the province. Combined with historical data, the MNRF said that trends suggest cormorant populations are increasing in Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and Lake Superior but are stable on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Huron.

"We will continue to monitor the cormorant population status and trends to support sustainability of cormorants in the province," the ministry said. "Our monitoring program complements existing site-specific double-crested cormorant monitoring in Ontario (e.g. by Parks Canada, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority)." 

You can find links to specific research at these links:

About the Author

Casey Stranges is a reporter based in Sudbury. casey.stranges@cbc.ca

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