WARNING: These videos contain footage of injured birds that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.
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.
Now, Premier Ford and his government are proposing one of the most regressive wildlife “management” decisions in Canadian history. The proposed changes are rooted in an irrational hatred for cormorants that will fuel their persecution and drive them back to the brink of extinction, or worse, in the province.
A recent Environmental Registry of Ontario posting (https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4124) announced that the Government is seeking input on a proposed change to the province’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that will:
- designate double-crested cormorants as a “game” bird species,
- create a province wide annual hunting season from March 15 until December 31,
- allow anyone holding a valid Ontario Outdoors Card and small game hunting license to kill up to 50 cormorants per day (1,500 per month or more than 14,000 per season) and,
- require retrieval of the dead birds but allow the carcasses to spoil (i.e., rot).
The Government’s proposal would:
- cause unimaginable cruelty by allowing the wholesale, uncontrolled, impossible to monitor, slaughter of cormorants across the province,
- devastate and possibly eradicate a recovered native wildlife species,
- result in disturbance, destruction and death of numerous federally protected non-target bird species such as Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and White Pelicans,
- irreparably damage natural ecosystems,
- encourage the worst form of “slob hunting,” and
- endanger the public by allowing hunters to discharge firearms throughout the spring, summer and fall season when lakes and natural areas are populated by cottagers and tourists.
The Government of Ontario says it is responding to concerns about too many cormorants, depleted fish stocks and environmental damage. But those concerns are largely just anecdotes, complaints from a small, radical segment of the fishing community, and unsubstantiated claims that were debunked long ago. There is no substantive body of evidence proving that cormorants are depleting fish stocks or causing any ecological problems whatsoever.
The reality is that cormorants are a natural part of Ontario’s rich biodiversity and an ecologically beneficial species, being major predators of invasive fish species, like round gobies and alewives, attracting other waterbirds to their nesting sites, and serving other important functions in the ecosystems they inhabit.
A Recovered Species
Far from being overabundant, cormorant numbers are relatively modest, have stabilized and are dropping in some areas. According to the Journal of Great Lakes Research, “The total Great Lakes population of breeding cormorants for 2000 is estimated at 115,000 pairs (=nests).” (Weseloh, D.V. Chip et al, Population Trends and Colony Location of Double-crested Cormorants in the Canadian Great Lakes and Immediately Adjacent Areas, 1990-2000: Manager’s Guide, Journal of Great Lakes Research, Volume 28, Issue 2, 2002, Pages 125 – 144).
Unfortunately, we really don’t know how many cormorants currently nest in Ontario. The Ontario government has not conducted a cormorant count since 2009 and then only in the lower Great Lakes basin. The number of cormorant nests counted at that time was 42,200.
However, more recent nest counts by our US counterparts show a population in alarming decline. In a more recent paper in response to the proposed cormorant hunt, Linda Wires, a Conservation Biologist and colonial waterbird expert writes, “Monitoring by F. Cuthbert and L. Wires (unpubl. Data) regularly undertaken for the USFWS document a 36% decline in US Great Lakes between 2005 and 2016.” (Comments submitted by Linda Wires on Proposed Double-crested Cormorant hunt in Ontario, December 30, 2018).
If the decline is as steep as Wires and Cuthbert nest counts indicate, the proposed Ford government hunt could drive the population to extinction in Ontario.
At Risk of Extinction
Because they are conspicuous birds that congregate in colonies to nest on exposed islands and peninsulas (only about 3% of potential island sites in the Great Lakes are suitable), they are particularly vulnerable, being easily targeted and killed. Small congregations could be wiped out in just a few minutes or an hour, while larger colonies could be destroyed in just a few days or a week. Years of effort and thousands of dollars to recover the species will have been for nothing.
Radical cormorant-haters have already attacked colonies under cover of night, destroying nests, stomping on chicks and killing adults. Once the proposed changes to the law come into effect, people will be given free rein to destroy as many cormorants as they want. It wouldn’t take many people very long to wipe out most cormorants in the province, leaving just a tiny remnant of their population in a few protected areas. And driving them back to near extinction or even worse in Ontario is a real possibility.
How You Can Help: Oppose This Plan!
- Call or Write to the Ontario Premier and Minister of Natural Resources. Let Premier Ford and Minister Yakabuski know what you think of the plan to allow the mass killing of cormorants in Ontario. Their contact information is below. A quick phone call or a brief email are the most effective.
- If you live in Ontario, contact your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP). It doesn’t matter what party they represent or what their views (pro or con) are. Let them know what an unnecessary, outdated, environmentally damaging, wasteful and cruel idea this is. Ask what they’re going to do about it. Find your Ontario MPP using your postal code at elections.on.ca
- Spread the word. Tell everyone you know who loves birds, wildlife and nature about what’s going on. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or, if you can, an Opinion Editorial or article. Make sure you mention your MPP and what they are doing, or not doing, to protect cormorants and other wildlife in your letter.
- Donate. Opposing this Draconian, destructive and completely unnecessary plan to allow the unfettered killing of cormorants won’t be easy or cheap. That’s why we’re asking you to make a contribution of whatever you can afford in support of our efforts to protect cormorants. Donate to Zoocheck at www.zoocheck.com/donate/ or donate to Animal Alliance of Canada at www.animalalliance.ca/donate
Premier Doug Ford
Website Feedback Form: https://correspondence.premier.gov.on.ca/en/feedback/default.aspx
TTY/Teletypewriter: (for hearing impaired): 1-800-387-5559
Premier of Ontario
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
Minister of Natural Resources John Yakabuski
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Suite 6630, 6th Floor
99 Wellesley St. W
Toronto, ON M7A 1W3
Find Your Own Member of Provincial Parliament by using your postal code
Animal Alliance of Canada (416) 462-9541
Zoocheck (416) 285-1744
Fighting for cormorants: Talking and Letter Writing Points
- The Ontario government’s proposal will allow individuals with a small game license to kill up to 50 cormorants per day. That works out to approximately 1,500 cormorants per month or up to 14,250 cormorants for the entire proposed annual hunting season.
- The presence of cormorants benefits other colonial water birds, such as federally protected herons, egrets and pelicans, all of which are stable or growing populations where cormorants are found.
- The mass killing of cormorants will not be beneficial. In fact, the process of killing them will force other bird species to vacate the colony sites they share.
- There is no way to kill cormorants humanely. Even controlled, organized culls in other regions have resulted in large numbers of injured and crippled birds being left to die of their wounds or starve to death, including nestlings.
- Cormorants are beneficial because their diet consists of very large numbers of primarily invasive fish, such as alewives and round gobies, as well as other non-commercial, non-forage species. It is the commercial fisheries in Lake Erie and other lakes that are depleting fish populations, not cormorants.
- The mass killing of cormorants will damage the environment and disrupt natural ecosystem processes.
- The return of cormorants, a native wildlife species, to the Great Lakes Basin is part of a natural process and should be celebrated
- Cormorants are not overabundant in the Great Lakes. In fact, their numbers are modest, now stabilized and are dropping in many areas.
- Changes in the composition of vegetation in and around bird colonies are a sign of vibrant, healthy, dynamic natural ecosystem processes.
- The number of trees that die in colonial waterbird colonies across the province is minuscule and wouldn’t even equal the number of trees in a single modestly-sized woodlot or taken in one day by Ontario’s logging industry.
- Only a small number of islands (less than 3%) and peninsula sites are available for cormorants and other colonial waterbirds to nest on.
- The mass killing being proposed by the Ontario government is a political response to anecdotes, unsubstantiated claims and complaints by a small group of radical fishermen, supported by special interest groups. There is no substantive body of scientific evidence supporting their position.
- Instead of making cormorants a scapegoat for environmental problems they have nothing to do with, attention should be given to addressing the issues that actually do affect fish populations and aquatic environments, such as climate change, pollution, shoreline and habitat destruction, over-fishing and a broad range of other issues.
- The proposed designation of cormorants as game animals, along with a non-utilization exemption that allows the carcasses to rot should be an affront to every hunter who believes in sportsmanship, fair chase and ethics.
- There are very real safety issues where hunters are permitted to discharge firearms throughout the spring, summer and fall season when lakes and natural areas are populated by cottagers and tourists.
- The proposed “hunt” will cause unimaginable cruelty by allowing the wholesale, uncontrolled slaughter of cormorants across the province, wounding adults (video of cormorant with a broken bill: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0pBs6XjtSg&list=PL1asTRKubtRuAy7LWUpMFubz97ydJTEhM&index=3) and orphaning thousands of baby birds who will die from starvation and exposure to the elements.