Open Season on Science: Double-crested Cormorants Under Attack. Again.




Keith A. Hobson, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and Linda Wires
September 8, 2021



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Artwork by Barry Kent MacKay reproduced with permission.

Keith A. Hobson and Linda Wires | September 8, 2021

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Keith A. Hobson, FRSC, Department of Biology, University of Western Ontario.

Linda Wires, Conservation Biologist and author of The Double-crested
Cormorant: Plight of a Feathered Pariah

Fall is a special time in the Great Lakes region of Ontario for those
interested in the movements of migratory species, as there are millions of
warblers, waterbirds and monarch butterflies moving south. Unfortunately, it
also heralds the highly controversial hunting season in the region that was
initiated in 2020, when from 15 September to 31 December hunters can kill 15
Double-crested Cormorants a day.

Sadly, Double-crested Cormorants have a lengthy history of being
insufficiently protected and indeed persecuted. While most migratory birds
in Canada are protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act, the
Double-crested Cormorant is not, despite fully qualifying as a migratory
bird native to North America.

Instead, cormorants in Canada are managed provincially, enabling Ontario’s
Ford Government to legally declare open season on a migratory native species
that is not a game bird. The liberal “bag limit” is designed to cull the
populations to, as yet, an unexplained level in response to a vociferous
lobby group, chief among them the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
(OFAH).

OFAH asserts that cormorants are “destroying natural ecosystems” and
describes an “ecological mess caused by high concentrations of these
fish-devouring birds.” It is true that this species feeds almost exclusively
on fish and they aggregate during summer in impressive breeding colonies
along shorelines where they can nest in trees or on the ground, and
sometimes denude vegetation. Such attributes are common to colonial
waterbirds, yet the cormorant singularly evokes ire and it is not unusual to
find terms like “ugly”, “useless” and “marauding” on recent blog sites.

No scientific committees engaged in tackling the many ills of the Great
Lakes ecosystems have identified cormorants as an issue, but instead point
to the introduction of numerous invasive species, a suite of human
activities, and current and pending climate change as top concerns.
Furthermore, data from numerous scientific studies in various areas of North
America, including the Great Lakes of Ontario, have overwhelmingly shown
that cormorants pose no threat to sport or commercial fisheries. In fact,
the evidence indicates they are increasingly feeding on invasive damaging
fish, such as round goby and alewife. Similarly, cormorant impacts to
vegetation are local and part of a natural disturbance regime that has
occurred for millennia. Compared with the catastrophic and long-term
perturbation humans have caused, cormorant-caused impacts to the natural
environment are trivial.

In local cases where scientific evidence has demonstrated a need for
cormorant control, a targeted rational approach would include measurable
goals and be undertaken by skilled professionals. Within the spirit of
adaptive resource management, it would require continual justification,
data, and careful monitoring before and after any action is taken. It would
not be based on perception or opinion common in social media and advocacy
circles.

The ecological integrity of the Great Lakes should be of great concern to
everyone. But the decision of Doug Ford’s government to allow public killing
of cormorants throughout Ontario has absolutely no basis in science. Rather,
it signals a significant departure from professional evidence-based wildlife
management. The danger of such an approach is on full display in the US,
where public perception and dislike of the species has prevailed. There,
over the last two decades approximately one million cormorants have been
destroyed, despite no scientific evidence to indicate that such control was
warranted. As such, Ontario’s new fall “season” should indeed be a wake-up
call to Canadians.

Reference

Hobson, K. A. 2021. Ontario
<https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Frsc-src.ca
%2Fen%2Fvoices%2FHobson%25202021%2520ACE-ECO.pdf&data=04%7C01%7C%7C51869111f
e894ebdeaba08d973c8e7c2%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C6376681
28979783358%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJB
TiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=B48Rs1OFeOxB2TsD1bD9oIvMFRaw68smdNLj
U5%2BEk7w%3D&reserved=0> ‘s decision for the province-wide cull of
Double-crested Cormorants. Avian Conservation and Ecology 16(1):24.
https://doi.org/10.5751/ACE-01949-160124
<https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fdoi.org%2F
10.5751%2FACE-01949-160124&data=04%7C01%7C%7C51869111fe894ebdeaba08d973c8e7c
2%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637668128979793296%7CUnknown%
7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn
0%3D%7C1000&sdata=ACLBQFVmJFg5hYMdSqulten5vf61RxQZD%2B%2BstCPrhEo%3D&reserve
d=0>

The article was published in the Globe and Mail on September 9, 2021.

https://rsc-src.ca/en/voices/open-season-science-double-crested-cormorants-u
nder-attack-again
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%2Fen%2Fvoices%2Fopen-season-science-double-crested-cormorants-under-attack-
again&data=04%7C01%7C%7C51869111fe894ebdeaba08d973c8e7c2%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb
435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637668128979803259%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjo
iMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=v0%
2FeWjo%2F59ostluDMvCgkEVctlh1H0DSFsu%2BG1x16sc%3D&reserved=0> Open Season on
Science: Double-crested Cormorants Under Attack. Again. | The Royal Society
of Canada

Keith A. Hobson and Linda Wires | September 8, 2021Download ArticleKeith A.
Hobson, FRSC, Department of Biology, University of Western Ontario.Linda
Wires, Conservation Biologist and author of The Double-crested Cormorant:
Plight of a Feathered Pariah

rsc-src.ca

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