The province of Ontario is introducing an annual fall harvest of the double-crested cormorant as a step to protect fish stocks and natural habitat.
In Fenelon Falls on Friday morning, John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, announced that the hunting season will run annually from Sept. 15 to Dec. 31, beginning this year.
Yakabuski says Ontario has a healthy and sustainable cormorant population. The fish-eating bird — which consumes up to a pound a fish a day — is known for its droppings called guana which can kill trees and other vegetation in which they nest and roost. They are notorious for destroying traditional nesting habitats of other colonial waterbirds.
“We’ve heard concerns from property owners, hunters and anglers, and commercial fishers about the kind of damage cormorants have caused in their communities, so we’re taking steps to help them deal with any local issues,” Yakabuski said. “In large amounts, cormorant droppings can kill trees and other vegetation and destroy traditional nesting habitats for some other colonial waterbirds, so it’s critical that we take action to strike a healthy balance in local ecosystems.
Following public consultations, the province has made changes to its initial proposal so as not to interfere with waterway users and other migratory birds.
“We listened to those who provided comments about the cormorant hunting proposal, and as a result, we are introducing only a fall hunting season to avoid interfering with recreational users of waterways and nesting periods for some migratory birds,” Yakabuski said. “We have also reduced the maximum number of cormorants a hunter can take to 15 a day, which is a similar limit to one for federally regulated migratory game birds such as mourning doves, snow and Ross’s geese, rails, coot and gallinules.”
Laurie Scott, MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, says cormorants have been a growing problem on Sturgeon Lake and Balsam Lake in her riding. “They have covered islands with their guano, killing trees and vegetation,” Scott said.
“We’re listening to local residents who have voiced their concerns and asked for additional tools to address the issue.”
Last year, the ministry and partner agencies surveyed cormorant colonies across the Great Lakes and select inland lakes in Ontario. Based on nest count surveys, the province says there are an estimated minimum of 143,000 breeding cormorants in 344 colonies across the province.
The province says combined with historical data, trends suggest that cormorant populations are increasing in Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and Lake Superior and are stable on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Huron.
“Growing up in North Bay and spending many summers fishing on Lake Nipissing, I have seen firsthand the issues that cormorants have caused in some local areas,” said Mike Harris, parliamentary assistant to Yakabuski.
“A new fall hunting season will help communities manage cormorant populations where they have negatively impacted natural habitat and other waterbird species.”
The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters applauds the bird harvesting announcement.
“We are pleased to see a provincial government finally take action to control overabundant cormorant populations to help protect Ontario’s ecosystems,” said executive director Angelo Lombardo. “We are encouraged to see that the MNRF has made adjustments to the original proposal in response to concerns expressed by the OFAH and others.”
The Ontario Commercial Fisheries’ Association echos the sentiment.
“We strongly support the government’s decision to introduce a fall hunting season, which will help to control damaging cormorant populations,” said Jane Graham, executive director. “Our position has not been to seek the extinction of cormorants from Ontario but for the management of cormorants to promote a balanced ecosystem, which is in the best interests for all Ontarians.”
The province says hunters will be responsible for appropriately identifying their target and ensuring they are harvesting only double-crested cormorants. Cormorants can be consumed but if not, the province says the harvested birds must be disposed of properly.