Windsor

Clock ticking for public input on proposed cormorant cull

Ontario is considering controlling the double-crested cormorant population by creating a hunting season for it. The cull proposal is open to public feedback but only until Jan. 3.

Cormorants are blamed for killing vegetation due to their fecal matter

A Leamington-based bird expert says cormorants have always bred in the Great Lakes, and says their increase in population is them reverting back to healthy numbers, rather than an overpopulation issue. (Drew Olsen)

Ontario is considering controlling the double-crested cormorant population by creating a hunting season for the aquatic bird. The cull proposal has been open to public feedback since Nov. 19 and will close Jan. 3. 

In the last few years, experts say the bird colonies have multiplied by the thousands on shorelines across Ontario. Landowners have complained about the destruction of vegetation and fishermen blame the bird's fishy diet for hurting their livelihoods.

"They have exploded across the entire Great Lakes ecosystem," said Maria Papoulias, superintendent of Point Pelee National Park. 

But a Leamington-based bird expert, Jeremy Bensette, said cormorants might be a bit misunderstood. 

Bensette does field biology work in wetlands and Great Lakes and said he's not sure a hunting season would be the healthiest response to concerns about the bird.

A double-crested cormorant surfaces after catching dinner. Many fishermen blame the bird for hurting Ontario's fishing industry. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

"Seeing as they're a native bird species that has kind of always bred in the Great Lakes, their increase in population recently is probably more kind of reverting back to their historically healthy numbers," he said. 

"I don't think it's so much an overpopulation."

Can be expensive to hunt

If approved, the policy would allow a hunter to kill up to 50 birds a day, with no limit on the number one could kill during a season. 

If hunters meet their daily quota every day during the proposed hunting period of March 15 to Dec. 31, potentially, they could each kill around 14,000 birds a year.

Bensette said it could be detrimental to the population if hunters were to kill to the maximum allowance. However, he's not convinced that would happen because shooting can be expensive, he said, especially because the meat isn't generally used for food.

"I think a bit of an issue is just that they're kind of sloppy ... But they've kind of always been part of the landscape in this region, and for that reason, I have enough respect for them," he said. "I like them. I guess I'm a little bit odd in that way."

Other birds could be affected by cull

Peaceful Parks, an online citizen's coalition group, launched a petition on Charge.org to try to prevent a cull from happening.

Cormorants are blamed for the killing of vegetation, due to their fecal matter, destroying traditional nesting habitats for other shoreline birds as well as depleting game fish stocks. (Chris Blomme)

Lead campaigner Anna Maria Valastro, based in London, Ont., said a cull would be wrong. 

"Here comes Doug Ford, and he wants to shoot them up because, I don't know, because hunters and anglers have always hated these birds because they eat fish," she said. 

She's also concerned the cull might affect other birds that nest alongside cormorants. 

"If you're gonna shoot up cormorants, then you're also likely going to shoot up herons, and gulls and even if you don't shoot them directly, every time they fly off their nest, there's a chance that their eggs are going to go cold, or they'll be open to predators."

Middle Island

In Windsor-Essex, cormorants have been known to be problematic on Point Pelee National Park's Middle Island. 

Thousands of cormorants blanket Middle Island in Lake Erie each year. (Parks Canada/Provided )

The park has spent the last decade managing the population with an annual cull by park staff to try to protect the "ecological integrity" of the park, Papoulias explained.

"So cormorants are messy birds, they nest in huge colonies, they produce a lot of waste, and that waste is very acidic, so it falls on the trees and plants below them and it kills them."

She said nests on the island have been reduced by 56 per cent from the counts in 2007, which has allowed vegetation and species at risk to rebound.

Consultations have begun

If the cull is approved, Papoulias said it likely wouldn't affect Middle Island because hunting is forbidden in national parks.

However, according to her, cormorants will move from island to island. But she can't speculate on how a possible cull might impact the broader population. 

Public consultations for the policy have already begun and will run until Jan. 3. Ontarians are encouraged to share their thoughts online or by phone.

About the Author

Katerina Georgieva is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Windsor. She has also worked for CBC in Charlottetown, Toronto and Winnipeg.

With files from Natalie Nanowski, Jo Lynn Sheane

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