For more than 10 years, Animal Alliance of Canada, Born Free Foundation, Zoocheck, Earthroots and other groups have been working to gain protections for cormorants. These unfortunate birds have been scapegoated for everything from water pollution to environmental destruction to the decimation of fish populations. All of these claims are false.
Double-crested cormorants are native Ontario birds that have repopulated parts of their former range and they fulfill a valuable ecological role. Not only do they benefit biodiversity, they help generate healthy fish populations and should be considered a integral component of Ontario’s natural heritage.
Human persecution and pesticide poisoning drove Double-crested cormorants to the brink of extinction. Remarkably, this magnificent native water bird has rebounded and is now repopulating parts of its former range in the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, many people view the return of cormorants as abnormal and claim that cormorant populations are out of control. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A great deal of misinformation about cormorants has been spread by anglers and wildlife managers fuelling an organized war against the birds on both sides of the border. Cormorant Defenders International (CDI), of which Animal Alliance is a part, was formed to respond to the assault on cormorants and to respond to the many erroneous claims made about them.
The most significant threat to Double-crested cormorants are the very agencies charged with their protection. In Canada, those agencies are Point Pelee National Park & Parks Canada and Presqu’ile Provincial Park & the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR).
Parks Canada and the OMNR oversee three locations that are home to Ontario’s largest cormorant colonies. Parks Canada controls Middle Island in Lake Erie, while the OMNR controls East Sister Island in Lake Erie and High Bluff Island in Lake Ontario.
The cormorant colony on Middle Island, a tiny island in Lake Erie that became part of Point Pelee National Park in 2000, is threatened. A mass kill of the island’s naturally occurring Double-crested cormorant population began in 2008. The plan to aggressively cull the birds on the island was scheduled to be in full swing in 2008, but a CDI legal challenge in federal court delayed it considerably, resulting in less than 250 birds being killed, instead of the many thousands that were originally targeted. CDI representatives observed the cull from boats positioned next to Middle Island and from a land-based station on neighbouring Pelee Island. In 2009, the cull resulted in the deaths of approximately 600 birds.
The park claims the kill is necessary to save Middle Island’s vegetation, but changes to the composition of vegetation are part of the natural process of succession experienced wherever colonial birds are found. The cormorants pose no threat whatsoever to the survival of any plant or animal species, and Middle Island is one of the few locations available where cormorants can colonize.
In 2008, Presqu’ile Provincial Park proposed a new cull of the cormorant colony on High Bluff Island that would have taken place for 10 years. The park claims the cormorants are destroying the island and wiping out a unique forest environment, but their claims lack scientific legitimacy.
In 2009, the OMNR sought the right to kill nesting cormorants at Presqu’ile Provincial Park through its Environmental Assessment (EA) programme, this time for a 10-year period. Again, we intervened and submitted a complaint to the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) that we hoped would stop or significantly reduce the senseless killing and immense cruelty which we documented in previous years. We were able to stop all culling for four years. Culling will likely start again, but the MNR (Ontario Parks) will be significantly curtailed resulting in thousands fewer birds being killed.
On October 1, 2010, we received the MOE’s decision on our submission. The MOE has decided that an EA is not required. However, a number of conditions have been applied to the Park’s management plan, including the following:
- The MNR expects that fewer than 100 cormorants may need to be killed in each of the next few years. If more than 300 cormorants are slated for slaughter, the MOE would require a Revised Notice of Completion allowing the submission of Part II Order requests;
- No killing would occur of cormorants who may have eggs past 75 percent of their incubation period, which would include if chicks are hatched;
- Killing in a given area will occur at most every second day; and
- Shooting events will be 30 minutes or less in duration and will be discontinued if a bird is wounded and needs to be ‘humanely dispatched’.
While not a clear-cut victory for the cormorants, these conditions will result in fewer birds left wounded and, while waiting for this decision, stopped the shooting of cormorants on High Bluff Island since 2007.
Double-crested cormorants are a native Ontario water bird and a part of the natural ecology of Middle Island and High Bluff Island, both world renowned bird sanctuaries. The proposals to “manage” them are ill-conceived, short sighted, a waste of resources and enormously cruel.
How You Can Help
To help the Middle Island cormorants, raise this issue today with Environment Canada Minister Catherine McKenna. Let her know that the slaughter of cormorants on Middle Island, part of Point Pelee National Park, must be stopped. Tell her cormorants are a part of the natural ecology of Middle Island and that it should be allowed to evolve in a natural way. Remind her that there is no way to kill humanely large numbers of birds in the field and that doing so is an archaic, destructive and cruel method of wildlife management that has no scientific or ecological justification.
Minister of the Environment and Climate Change
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6