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Scientists excoriate Ontario’s ill-conceived cormorant hunt

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In AWARE News Network
Sep 2nd, 2020
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Call for Yakabuski and the MNRF to provide a science-based, detailed and peer-reviewed approach to resolve conflicts with cormorants

“Minister Yakabuski, we call on you and the MNRF to provide a science-based, detailed and peer-reviewed approach to resolve conflicts with cormorants.”

Open Letter Regarding Fall Harvest of Double-crested Cormorants

To: Minister John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry (john.yakabuski@pc.ola.org)
Cc: Premiere Doug Ford (doug.fordco@pc.ola.org), Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (Jonathan.Wilkinson@parl.gc.ca), Ontario’s Regional Director General’s Office (ec.grandslacs-greatlakes.ec@canada.ca)

From Dr. Gail Fraser and others (see below)

Dear Minister Yakabuski;

On July 31, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced a 106-day fall hunt on double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) where a hunter can take 15 birds per day. As ecologists, fisheries scientists and natural resource managers, we are concerned at the lack of scientific examination associated with the announcement. The hunt originates from, and is regulated, by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) whose mandate is to “sustainably manage Ontario’s fish and wildlife resources” and as such, the justifications provided for cormorant management should be science-based and backed by rigorous analyses. To sustainably manage a resource, populations objectives must be identified1 to ensure persistence of the population through time.

DCCO_OpenLetter with footnotes

No rationale is provided as to why a provincial wide hunt is being adopted instead of targeted localized management approaches.2 This is especially important for addressing fish populations believed to be impacted by cormorants and impacts to habitat because, if they are occurring, such impacts are a result of site- and time-specific conditions. The U.S. Environmental Impact Statement on cormorant control rejected hunting as an option noting, “The proposed action [depredation orders] is preferable to hunting largely for ethical reasons. From purely biological and economic perspectives, hunting might prove an effective way to kill numerous DCCOs at minimal expense to the government. However, we have serious reservations about authorizing a non-traditional species to be hunted when it cannot be eaten or widely utilized and feel that there are more responsible and socially acceptable ways of dealing with migratory bird conflicts.”3

This hunt departs from two of the seven principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.4 First, that wildlife should only be killed for a legitimate, non-frivolous purpose. Second, that scientific management is the proper means for wildlife conservation.5

The hunt is problematic on many other fronts. While the announcement provided an estimate of the 2019 breeding population of cormorants, no assessment was provided that identified the replaceable and sustainable level of cormorant harvest. If 0.5% of small game hunters reached the daily limit for ten days that exceeds the estimated breeding population in Ontario.6 Further, there was no indication that reporting by hunters will be required, so how will the numbers of cormorants taken in a fall harvest be assessed?7 Without such reporting, two factors are of concern. The first is the inability to coordinate total numbers of cormorants killed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on their proposed and probable control efforts.8 Second, there will be no data on the incidental take of migratory species that look similar to double-crested cormorants in flight such as the common loon (Gavia immer).9

The fall harvest was stated to “….help address concerns about impacts to local ecosystems by cormorants, a bird that preys on fish, eating a pound a day, and that can damage trees in which they nest and roost.” Yet, the approaches used to assess cormorant-fisheries interactions10 indicate that the MNRF will be unable to assess how the removal of an unknown number of cormorants from locations where no problems may even exist will be linked to the state of various fish populations across Ontario. On that basis alone, targeted, localized management approaches must be adopted instead of a hunt.

Minister Yakabuski, we call on you and the MNRF to provide a science-based, detailed and peer-reviewed approach to resolve conflicts with cormorants. At a minimum, the report should include:
• Data on Ontario’s cormorant population (numbers of breeding birds and colonies) and population goals, including analyses on various take levels, the incorporation of ongoing management activities in the province (e.g., cull on Middle Island Point Pelee National Park11) and an estimate of how the population will respond to targeted localized management actions to ensure a sustainable population.12
• Detailed rationales and objectives for proposed localized management activities13.
• An explanation on how the MNRF will coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service in managing the interior and migratory population of cormorants.

Cormorants are a species native to Ontario.14 A significant amount of financial resources was invested in creating a healthier environment which allowed them to recover; their abundance is a conservation success story.15 To avoid the species becoming endangered again, the population needs to be managed using the best practices in wildlife management and their populations carefully monitored, particularly in conjunction with the USFWS. A hunt is not the approach that should be utilized to ensure maintaining a sustainable population of cormorants in Ontario.
Sincerely,

Paul L. Aird, PhD, Forest Conservation Policy, Professor, Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, ON
Frances Bonier, PhD, Behaviour, Ecology, Evolution & Physiology, Associate Professor, Queen’s University, ON
Gregor Beck, MSc, Wildlife Ecologist, Senior Conservation Advisor Birds Canada, ON
Rachel Bryant, MSc, Ecology & PhD Environmental ethics and animal ethics, University of Toronto Scarborough, ON
Sheila Colla, PhD, Ecology & Conservation, Assistant Professor, York University, ON
Steven J. Cooke, PhD, Fisheries Scientist, Canada Research Professor, Carleton University, Fellow of the American Fisheries Society, Member of the College of the Royal Society of Canada, ON
James Diana, PhD, Fisheries & Aquaculture, Professor Emeritus, University of Michigan, MI Jessica Forrest, PhD, Associate Professor of Ecology, University of Ottawa, ON
Vicki Friesen, PhD, Conservation Biologist, Professor, Queen’s University, ON
Gail Fraser, PhD, Wildlife Ecology (waterbirds; cormorants), Professor, York University, ON Jessica Forrest, PhD – Associate Professor of Ecology, University of Ottawa, ON
Lianne Girard, BSc, Environmental Sciences & Restoration, University of Waterloo, ON
Jean-François Giroux, PhD, Wildlife management and Ecology, Professor Université du Québec à Montréal, QC
John Grandy, PhD, Ecology, Executive Director, The Pegasus Foundation and Representative Pettus Crowe Foundation, CI
Paul Grogan, PhD, Plant and Ecosystem Ecology, Queen’s University, ON
Chris Grooms, BSc, Ecology (Paleoliminology), Research Technician, Queen’s University, ON
Mart Gross, PhD, Ecology/Biodiversity Science, Professor, University of Toronto, ON
Ian L. Jones, PhD, Ecology (Marine bird biologist), Professor, Memorial University of Newfoundland, NL
Clement Kent, PhD, Ecology, Adjunct Professor, York University, ON
Jeremy Kerr, PhD, Ecology, University Research Chair in Macroecology and Conservation Chair, University of Ottawa, ON
Edward Kroc, PhD Ecologist & Statistician, Dept. of ECPS University of British Columbia, BC

Valérie Langlois, PhD, Canada Research Chair, Associate Professor in Ecotoxicogenomics and
Endocrine Disruption Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) Quebec, QC Donald Lyons, PhD, Avian Ecology, OR
Jim Ludwig, PhD, Ecology (seven decades of research on waterbirds), ON
Julien Martin, PhD, Evolutionary Ecology, Professor, University of Ottawa, ON Patrick Moldowan, PhD Candidate, Ecology, University of Toronto, ON
Robert Montgomerie, PhD, Ecology and evolutionary biology of birds, Queen’s University, ON
Faisal Moola, PhD, Ecology, University of Guelph, ON
Ralph D. Morris, PhD (Population Ecologist), Professor Emeritus, Brock University, ON
Silke Nebel, PhD, Bird Ecologist, Vice-President, Conservation and Science Birds Canada/Oiseaux Canada, ON
Ryan Norris, PhD, Ecology, Professor, University of Guelph, ON Martyn Obbard, PhD, Wildlife Ecology, ON
Laurence Packer, PhD, Ecology and Biodiversity, Distinguished Research Professor, York University, ON
Steven Price, MSc, Ecology, President, Birds Canada, ON
Jim Quinn, PhD, Ecology (waterbirds, including management of cormorants at Hamilton Harbour for 14 years), McMaster University, ON
William E. Rees, PhD, FRSC, Population Ecologist and Ecological Economist, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia, BC
Jordan Reynolds, PhD Candidate, Ecology, Trent University, ON
Garth Riley, BSc, Ecology, University of Guelph, ON
Daniel Roby, PhD, Wildlife Ecology, Professor Emeritus, Oregon State University, OR

R.C. Rooney, PhD, Ecology, Associate Professor of Wetland Ecology, University of Waterloo, ON
Michael Runtz, Honours BSc, Lecturer, Carleton University, ON
Stanley Senner, MSc, Ecology (Ornithology), MT
Sapna Sharma, PhD, Ecology, ON
Dave Shutler, PhD, Ecology & Ornithology Professor Emeritus, Acadia University, NS Andrea L. Smith, PhD, Ecology, ON
John P. Smol, PhD, Ecology/Limnology, Distinguished University Professor, Queen’s University, ON
Bridget Stutchbury, PhD, Ecology, York University, ON
Gregory W. Thiemann, PhD, Wildlife Ecology, Associate Professor, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, York University, ON
Sarah Wallace, PhD candidate in ecotoxicology (studying cormorants in ON and QC), QC
D.V. Chip Weseloh, PhD, Ecology – waterbird biologist (> 40 years working with cormorants in Alberta, Minnesota and Ontario), Retired government, ON
Linda R. Wires, MA & MS, Conservation Scientist, Waterbirds, MN

Media:

Cormorant hunt lacks scientific basis, 51 experts say in open letter to Ontario minister

A Massive Hunt On Ontario Birds Is Starting This Month & Experts Are Trying To Stop It

Petition:

Stop the Fall Hunt of Double-Crested Cormorants in Ontario

2 Responses to “Scientists excoriate Ontario’s ill-conceived cormorant hunt”

  1. Pam Fulford says:

    What an interesting viewpoint in the open letter. It is backed up by some very knowledgeable people. It is unfortunate that MNRF is not listening to some of these talented academics from the scientific community. Anyone who has seen the devastation caused by cormorants along the south-west shore of Thorah Island would agree we have a huge problem there. I agree any culling should have a targeted approach to these obvious problem sites in Ontario, and should come with a plan to sustain this species in Ontario. I hate to think that this will turn out to be an open target practice on wildlife, especially when our Conservation Officers are very rarely seen these days. Isn’t there a better way?

  2. Holly Levinter says:

    I agree with the above letter and suggest that perhaps Conservation Officers have been reduced because of budget cuts. I too have noted fewer conservation officers involving preservation of wetlands, residents debasing the shorelines, action on cleaning up polluted waters on public land.

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