What to do with cormorants? Ontario says shoot them

A double-crested cormorant drying its wings Photo by Elliotte Rusty Harold

Update: The Ontario government has announced the 2020 fall hunting season for double-crested cormorants. The open season runs from September 15 to December 31, and the harvest limit is 15 birds per day. Hunters are required to retrieve and dispose of any cormorants that they shoot.

Are double-crested cormorants one of the worst things that have ever happened to Ontario’s lakes, or a much maligned and badly misunderstood bird? Which camp you fall into may dictate how you respond to the government of Ontario’s proposal for a radical change in its management of the bird’s numbers. Acknowledging that the call for a more forceful response has come from “some groups (commercial fishing industry, property owners) and individuals” who contend that “cormorants have been detrimental to fish populations, island forest habitats, other species and aesthetics,” the province is proposing to make it a “game bird” for 2019. Among the changes would be an open hunting season across the province from March 15 to December 31, with an individual limit of 50 birds per day and no possession limit, which means that hunters could kill as many birds as they wish over the season. Hunting from a stationary boat will also be permitted.

As the consultation notice indicates, the initiative would require amendments to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act and supporting regulations to allow hunters to kill cormorants and to leave their carcasses to spoil. Right now, hunters cannot leave the bodies of game animals to rot where they are killed.

The government’s proposal raises questions about whether this represents legitimate management of a “game” species, and instead is intended to allow mass killings at rookeries and the extirpation of the species from the province. (The proposal says the environmental consequences are expected to be neutral, since cormorants are “abundant in Ontario and anticipated levels of harvest aren’t expected to affect sustainability.”) Some cottagers may also be concerned about a hunting season nine months long on their lake, with such large daily limits.

To learn more about the proposal, go here.

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