Biologists continue to reject cormorant hunting as the local population appears to be shrinking | MCU Times

Biologists continue to reject cormorant hunting as the local population appears to be shrinking

A cormorant colony in eastern Ontario is shrinking, and a retired biologist monitoring the birds says Ontario’s cormorant hunt has left the colony on the brink of survival.

In his volunteer role for the Big Rideau Lake Association, Buzz Boles has mapped the disappearance of cormorant nests and a decline in the lake’s inhabited population since 2015.

Boles said the number of aquatic birds has dropped from a maximum of about 90 birds in 2015 to 43 in his latest count in July.

Boles said cormorant populations throughout the province are suffering from one bird virus infection called Newcastle disease, and the province-wide cormorant hunt puts already shrinking colonies at risk, like the one on Big Rideau Lake.

“My expectation is that the population will continue to decline,” he said. “And in time, this historic colony will be gone.”

Boles believes Ontario’s annual cormorant hunt is the result of lobbying by fisheries and hunting groups, not evidence-based resource management. (Ben Andrews / CBC News)

In July 2020, Ontario’s Department of Natural Resources and Forestry announced the controversial hunt, giving hunters with an outdoor map and small game license the opportunity to kill up to 15 birds a day from September 15 to December 31.

Since cormorant meat tastes unpleasant, the government changed the existing rules to allow hunters to throw their catch at the landfill or bury it in their backyard.

But Boles said he has noticed that hunters are not removing all the bird carcasses from Big Rideau Lake.

“They have violated the basic rule of hunting, and that is to say, if you kill it, you eat it,” he said.

Boles found empty hand grenades and five dead cormorants abandoned on an island in Big Rideau Lake in late October 2021. (Ben Andrews / CBC News)

Fish a bad excuse to ‘wipe out’ birds: expert

Last year, Boles joined a long line of experts who argued that hunting is not based on science, but instead is the result of relentless lobbying by hunting and fishing groups.

Dozens of experts signed an open letter to the government and argued that the province should instead pursue “targeted, localized leadership”.

Steven Cooke, professor of environmental science at Carleton University and signer of the open letter, said the province often hits hunting as a way to protect fish from cormorants. Although the situation for Ontario’s fish stocks is not “pink”, he said, it is people – not cormorants – who are to blame.

“It’s worrying when fish are used as a justification for trying to wipe out bird populations,” he said.

Hunting improves social tolerance, says federation

The CBC contacted the Department of Natural Resources and Forestry for answers to concerns about the continued hunt, but was told no one was available for an interview.

Hunters have claimed that the cormorant population remains in abundance.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters lobbied the Ontario government to address concerns about bird numbers, said Lauren Tonelli, a resource management specialist at the federation.

She said the union was pushing for active management of the cormorant population and later had mixed feelings when the province proposed a hunting season.

A close-up of a double-combed cormorant in a tree in Florida. Cormorants are often blamed for killing vegetation because of their feces. (Rhona Wise / AFP via Getty Images)

Tonelli said the benefit of hunting comes down to promoting social tolerance.

“A lot of people have seen cormorants cause that kind of dead islands … and that’s created a really negative attitude towards cormorants,” she said. “The ability to feel that they can do something to help reduce this abundance that we see, I think really helps [hunters] get the feeling that something is being done. “

Tonelli said the federation’s biggest concern is not cormorant populations on large bodies of water, but inland fishing on smaller lakes, such as Big Rideau Lake.

Still, Boles said the birds are a long-standing and positive presence on small lakes in the province.

“I see a lot of people taking their kids out in boats … very close to the colony,” he said.

“It’s a great entrance to teach young people about ecology and animal species. Instead, the government has decided we want to shoot them.”

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