Ontario Nature Blog
Receive email alerts about breaking conservation
and environmental news.
© Lora Denis
Who equates the words “fall harvest” with the slaughter of inedible birds? The Government of Ontario, apparently. On July 30th it announced the introduction of a fall hunting season for double-crested cormorants, using these fine words: “Fall Harvest for Double-Crested Cormorants Introduced to Protect Local Ecosystems.” The ugly truth is that from September 15 to December 31, anyone with a shotgun and a hunting licence will be able to kill up to 15 cormorants a day.
Wanton disregard for wildlife bothers me at any time, but in this case, dressing up the carnage as “protecting fish and wildlife habitat,” as the government has done, is particularly abhorrent. Is it too much to ask that wildlife management be based on fact, not fiction?
Here are seven good reasons to condemn the hunt:
1. The government’s approach is not science-based. There is no population management objective or target. There is no requirement for hunters to report what they’ve killed. There are no measures in place to control how many cormorants will ultimately be killed locally or regionally.
2. There is no compelling evidence that cormorants have had a significant negative impact on commercial or sport fish stocks. According to the Canadian Wildlife Service, “studies have repeatedly shown that in a natural environment, cormorants feed primarily on small, largely non-commercial, shallow-water fish.” Less than two percent of their diet consists of ‘sport fish’ such as lake trout or salmon.
3. Non-native fish are an important part of the cormorant’s diet. Professor Jim Quinn from McMaster University confirms that studies he has been involved with reveal that cormorants are feeding mostly on problem fish such as round goby and alewife. A study on the Niagara River showed that up to 85 percent of the cormorants’ diet during the breeding season consisted of the invasive, non-native round goby.
4. While it is true that the ammonia-rich droppings of cormorants kill trees and other vegetation, concerns about property damage are an invalid justification for the hunt. Property owners already have recourse, under section 31 of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, to harass, capture or kill cormorants if they’re causing or are about to cause property damage.
5. Few people consider cormorants to be edible. So the government’s pretence that hunters “may choose to consume them” is weak at best. Law-abiding hunters who don’t want to eat them will have to either deliver the dead birds to a disposal facility or bury them on their property. (How likely is it instead that the carcasses will just be left to rot and wash up on nearby shorelines?)
6. Common loons may well fall victim to the hunt as they are difficult for many people to distinguish from cormorants on the water.
7. Cormorants have rebounded from historic lows in the 1970s, after suffering steep declines because of exposure to environmental contaminants. Their recovery is considered a Great Lakes conservation success story. Claims that cormorants are “overabundant” is a perception based more on socio-political than on ecological factors. In the Ontario government’s own words, cormorant populations in the Great Lakes have “stabilized or declined slightly” since the early 2000s.
Cormorants have long been maligned and persecuted in North America. The fall hunt is just another chapter in that regrettable history. If the government were serious about “protecting fish and wildlife habitat” it would focus its attention on halting the destruction wreaked by human activities rather than scapegoating cormorants.
Growing up fishing Long Point Bay, I can tell you for a fact that cormorants have destroyed the fishery. During the 60’s & 70’s I never saw one, and the bay was teaming with fish. Last summer while my son and I were fishing off Turkey Point we saw two large flocks of them fly over. I would estimate there were well over a thousand of them. Knowing that a nesting pair will consume more than a ton of fish in a season, it’s easy to see why the fishery has been declining.
I’ve been a boater at a marina in downtown Toronto for 5 years. I never saw them here until last year on occasion. This year theres many of them sitting and defecating on my boat and others. Like many in Toronto I like to moore at the Toronto Island wall but this year the cormorants have taken over. The entire area stinks depending on wind direction. The trees are dying. Im here now theres about 500 cormorants in the trees 200 yards away
Theres no doubt these birds are getting out of control
I read the comments disparaging the effect that cormorants have on the ‘natural landscape’. my goodness. and this all comes from the species responsible for ‘urban sprawl’ (Ontario losing 319 acres per day of farmland, per the Ontario Federation of Agriculture: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ont-farmland-loss-1.6493833), shoreline habitat in cottage country impacting the ecosystems (um, that is ‘us’ enjoying nature in cottage country, right hunters?) https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/68007/1/Egan_Kathleen_G_201411_MA_thesis.pdf ….and then, the loss of wetlands, green space, farm land as we build tract housing, roads, highways and tap into every other bit of landscape to enjoy our economic way of life…..stop blaming cormorants, park your trucks & guns lifestyle and walk for a change.
I would encourage everyone with an opinion, one way or another, do become as educated as they can about these topics before posting outright declarations.
There are many site-specific situations that could be dealt with, but the truth of the matter is that the numbers are running out of control and many people are seeing the negative consequences of the influx of these birds. It is also important to note that this is not a cull and these numbers are managed and will be managed each year, just as all of the other provincially mandated hunts are. There are real scientists and researchers at work to review the data, examine field evidence, and make estimations for future years after understanding the impact of various adjustments. These are not ad-hoc decisions based on the complaining of a few cottagers. There are many more factors to consider and you can be sure that the ministry has done their work, as they always do. Many would go so far as to say that this particular ministry has historically been the most data-driven in the province. The politicians in this case take direction from those with boots on the ground collecting the data.
Cormorants are not of no use and they are not being shot for target practice; they are being managed to help ensure ecological balance.
There are other points listed here that many choose to declare without research or understanding. For example, the argument about spring bear hunting leaving cubs to fend for themselves couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, hunters are subject to fines and the possibility of jail time should they shoot a cub or sow with cubs. Boars are the target and always will be as part of the management strategy and the basic morals and ethics that good hunters conduct themselves under.
All that I am saying is that it would be best to fully understand situations before commenting on them in order to spread information (not misinformation) and to best form an informed opinion on topics that really are quite central to Ontario’s wildlife.
Question how come i don’t hear you protecting TENT CATERPILLARS??,what about the hog weed,purple loose strife emerald ash beetle etc.etc what about your dandelions and weeds in your yard where you use herbicides?
Dont pick and choose , its being called a hypocrite
I used to sleep under the trees on the islands on the St. Lawrence River ear Brockville, On. Now most of the grass and trees are gone, what is left is feces from the cormorants. Besides eating all the fish, there is a parasite in bullheads maybe caused by cormorant feces? Can’t eat the bullhead now.
I agree that this invasive species should be eliminated and the season on them should be all year round.
I shot a few of them a few days ago and laid them out near a fox den I know about… There are foxes in the area and today when I checked they were all gone… Reduce, reuse, recycle…
I live on Head Lake in the Kawartha’s. Generally I’m against Gov’t intervention in general… In the early 1960’s our lake had small mouth bass, cat fish, suckers, sun fish, perch and rock bass. The MNR in their infinite wisdom introduced Muskies. A few years later there was only Muskie and small mouth bass left…. so then the MNR introduced large mouth bass…. they grew really big, really fast …until the Muskie wiped them out as well… so then the MNR introduced Walleye to control the Muskie. Apparently they spawn a month earlier than the Muskie and eat their eggs… what a shit show! The lake seemed to stabilize until about 15 years ago when the Cormorants first showed up…. in that time they’ve deforested two islands and destroyed the fish stock… There’s over a 150 of them! (Head Lake is a small lake)
The initial legislation was insane… 50 Cormorants a day from April 1 to Dec 31st … the last thing anyone needs on a small lake is red necks shooting birds at the peak of summer when cottagers are trying to enjoy the lake! I protested to the MNR….
If you need proof of the destructive nature of these birds just come and visit our lake… In my opinion, the approved legislation is a good first step…although the results will need to be monitored carefully… As I typed this, some folks on a pontoon boat are blasting away at them not to far from our dock… not pleasant!
Wild Turkeys were not “seeded” into Ontario. They were reintroduced after being extirpated from the province in the late 1800’s. They were a native bird to the province that were reduced to nothing through market hunting (killing for profit) It was hunter based conservation groups that brought them back almost 100yrs later and is one of the greatest conservation success stories in recent memory.
So tired of hunters getting belittled by eco extremists. Hunters and their various conservation organizations do a lot more for all wildlife than a bunch of lazy whiny suburban Folks that don’t want to get their hands dirty and volunteer time or money to actually improve situations.
How many wetlands has Ducks Unlimited protected? Much more than the city of Toronto or its surrounding municipalities. I cringe at the amount of woodland and farmland being lost to urban sprawl.
What’s worse in your mind? Me shooting a deer or grouse or duck in a season or the whole area being levelled, paved and stacked with townhouses where nothing natural lives? I don’t hunt and never have hunted these areas but I just like having them there and now they are being lost and the fish will follow since they keep pushing the limits up to the river banks and they build retaining ponds or just pipe the storm drains into the creeks. It’s criminal, but people will call it progress. Whatever draws in more property taxes right.
Makes me sick.
I have worked and lived on Southern Georgian Bay and the Trent Severn area for most of my life. Growing up Cormorants were not in this area. The population exploded over the last decade and I have watch the numbers increase and have seen the damage that the flocks do. I do not believe that hunters are going to invest the time and expense to go out and shoot these birds in large numbers, however, they will clean up problem areas in their own vicinity. There is a small island that we used to go to and fish, swim and picnic. You could not possibly go there now due to the Cormorant flock that frequents it. It is just a mess and the trees are all dying. The Ontario Government is allowing us the ability to address the problem in our own areas. The permission is overdue. Other hunters will tidy up their own back yards and hopefully this will improve the situation.
Also, just as a note, all the hunters I know have a very healthy appreciation for wildlife, nature and the environment.
French river pickerel river ,key river , NE Georgian Bay is FULL of these birds. I will be taking my shotgun when I am out fishing and shooting as many as I can.
Was fishing on a beautiful day on Lake Ontario this summer when we came about a kilometre from a small(formerly beautiful) bleached white island and then the light wind hit my nostrils and I almost threw up in my mouth the stench was so overwhelming. And then I saw the swarms of cormorants blackening the horizon as they like to fly a few feet above the water. I’m not sure how successful a hunt will be as cormorants tend to keep their distance from people, they are not culling or blowing up cormorant nesting areas as they did in Oregon. And I don’t think many hunters will go thru the difficulty of baiting or decoying as they would with ducks/geese. I think this hunt will have a marginal effect on the population…but I could be wrong….Lock and Load!
Shoot ‘em! Evaluate! Then shoot some more! When I start to see less of them and not more (which has been the case for decades) I’ll be convinced the population growth of these birds are adequately controlled.
Obviously very few of you have scuba dived in a body of water decimated by cormorants.
I have, and they eat anything and everything. I am on the South Channel of Georgian Bay and about 10 years we were infested with them. The area was totally wiped out of fish. It has taken 10 years for the fish populations to recover to where they were pre-cormorant.
It is enough to get me out and get my hunting lic just to remove these predators from the area
This is not a hunt This is a slaughter. We humans seem to believe we own this planet and have every right to hunt down and destroy any creatures deemed unworthy. These politicians are butting into something they know nothing about. This is a revolting form of trophy hunting and it is ugly. I read a few comments by some of these ‘hunters’..who are looking forward to this with gleeful anticipation. It is sick. These birds are beautiful unlike the ‘hunters’ who wish to slaughter them. These ‘culls’ never work and always have consequences
In response to your 7 good reasons – 1. The government plan may not seem to be science based but many municipalities along waterfronts are complaining about their water supplies being contaminated 2&3 Studies show … I have never seen a cormorant eat a goldfish or gobie, I have however witnessed a single cormorant dive, catch, surface and swallow 5 rainbow trout and salmon in less than 1 hour, studies can be misleading and manipulated 4. If a property owner lives within the limits of a municipality section 31 of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation ACT does not apply as it is illegal to discharge a firearm within the limits of the municipality for public safety, leaving no recourse. 5. Few people may eat them, but some may. Responsible legal hunters as you refer to them will harvest their cull and deliver them to a disposal facility or bury them. They could also be used by companies to make pet food same as the invasive Asian Carp. 6. While it may be true an occasional common loon may fall victim to the hunt, knowledgeable hunters will have no difficulty telling the difference between the two species of birds as their markings are quite different. Low light conditions would be the greatest problem in differentiating them. 7. Cormorant populations did indeed rebound, to the point of excess, if they have stabilized or declined it likely because the areas they inhabit cannot support their abundance and they compete with other waterfowl for food often driving other birds such as loons to less productive areas.
These birds are costing commercial fishermen, communities and the environment untold dollars in damage. Your article is very misleading.
I support cormorant management but it’s unfortunate that the government has chosen to use regulated hunting as the tool to do so. What we really need is targeted control like they do in provincial and national protected areas with multiple tools – shooting, egg oiling, etc. Even the OFAH had a hard time supporting this hunt in full, instead recommending targeted control efforts. But the author of this article is blatantly lying – even if the Ford government initiated a targeted control program with specific population objectives and cull thresholds, Ontario Nature would oppose it. So Anne’s arguments in Point #1 are true, but irrelevant because it wouldn’t change Ontario Nature’s position. And when Melina says “Ontario Nature does not oppose hunting that is sustainable and conducted in an ethical fashion”, I almost spit out my coffee. Give me one example of sustainable hunting that Ontario Nature supports – and I mean SUPPORTS, not just fails to oppose.
Dear Adam, Ontario Nature’s job is to advance the conservation of wild species and wild spaces. Our mandate is not to actively support hunting, but to ensure that the hunting that does occur is sustainable, humane and does not compromise the ecological health of wildlife habitats, populations or species. As long as that is the case, then we don’t oppose it.
You “activists” get those cameras ready for our fall hunt on these invasive species. You’ll be thanking us later. FYI do your research on the damage they have already done in the Georgian Bay area. Your welcome in advance. Sincerely- A local conservationist
Thank you everyone for your concerns on this issue! These two links provide further useful information:
Also, here are some scientific studies that we thought were informative and helped shape our opinion:
Please follow us on social media (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – @ontarionature) where we’ll post more updates on the fall cormorant hunt as they become available.
Simply and succinctly put, the hunting of the Double-crested Cormorant serves no useful purpose in the scheme of things. The Government of Ontario has done enough damage to the environmental legislation re protection of the environment, the flora and the fauna by setting the laws back 60 years. It will take an environmentally minded provincial administration in the near future a fair amount of legislative work to undo the damage done by this particular Government. Killing of Cormorants, at the rate of 15 per day, in the time span of 3 and a half months will greatly reduce the population of the bird. I might add that the same kind of killing was done in the southeastern USA of Carolina Parakeets which were allegedly damaging and or destroying crops. By 1920, the Parakeet was extinct from the face of the Earth. One writer stated that Double-crested Cormorants are a useless bird. We humans could be said to be useless to the environment we happen to be wondering about on and trampling on. Many of us wrote letters to the current Ontario Government objecting to the hunting of Double-crested Cormorants. Some may say that – hey they reduced the number of Cormorants that were to be killed per day. That’s not the point. These Cormorants are an indigenous species. They serve a useful purpose in the environment by providing guano, eating invasive fishes and birding opportunities for the burgeoning ecotourism industry of the province. I don’t mind at all if some trees perish where they nest. They also nest on the ground after the trees are gone. They are not destroying whole ecosystems as some would have us believe. There are many objections to the bird out there by people who do not know at all what they are talking about. The Government people didn’t really look at the scientific studies and went crashing ahead passing poor legislation. I am glad this bird is eating invasive fishes and most of the trees they happen to nest in are either Crack Willows, an invasive, or pioneer trees such as Eastern Cottonwood or Trembling Aspen. So what if a few environments are changed by the Cormorants. The birds will move on eventually and the cycle of growth and regrowth will continue. It did well without us for millennia and it will continue to do so if we keep our interests to ourselves. Here’s what you as an individual can do to express your objection to this unfortunate hunt. You can write your local MPP, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Minister of Environment Conservation and Parks and the Premier of Ontario. At least, you will be able to say your piece and have the satisfaction that you just did not sit back and do absolutely nothing in a hunt which serves no useful purpose. I for one do not wish to see the Double-crested Cormorant go the way of the Carolina Parakeet. That’s going to happen if people do not get up and say something. Additionally, you may object to the hunt here but if you do not do something like write a letter and or say your piece in other ways then I hope you can live with yourself with the possible elimination of another species from this Earth. This is one writer’s take on this issue. You may agree or disagree which is your prerogative.
As a hunter and OFAH member I have long been involved in environmental projects that improve our world. I am embarrassed that this cormorant ‘cull’ has been deemed a HUNT by both the MNRF and the OFAH. Hunters everywhere should be extremely upset that this so-called HUNT is taking place.
These are beautiful birds and an important species. They are beloved by birdwatchers which is a billion dollar industry. This hunt isn’t game hunting, this is sport hunting and its a shame society is still okay with killing nature’s beautiful, wild creatures for humanity’s pleasure and pride. I hope the ruling is overturned because it has no rationale in science or morality.
I am an avid outdoors person and think the picture of the Double Breasted Cormorant eating a Goldfish is very ironic. Goldfish are an incredibly invasive species and damage ponds and ecosystems quite quickly.
I also agree with the comment that states this mission is driven by cottage associations and people who do not necessairly want to look at the decrepid scenery these birds leave in their wake.
Hunters will always get the you know what end of the stick, when we are some of the best conservationists out there.
I think the approach for a cull is not the best, but at least we are not using the bird like they do in many Asian countries as a way to catch fish, tying it’s throat and letting it dive for the fish and then pulling the fish out.
I will not be hunting these birds and I know of many others who won’t be as well.
Cormorants are magnificent birds, part of our ecosystems, just like humans. I was paddling in Island Lake this past week and we inadvertently came across a cormorant fishing in a bay. In order to fly away from us it had to reduce its weight, so it coughed up 4 small fish that it had just caught. We felt privileged to witness this scene, it was an exceptional wildlife viewing experience that very few have ever seen close up. Hunting any birds — including ducks, geese, cranes — is cruel, anti-nature, macho and mindless. Have humans not destroyed enough wildlife already?
Harry…You have a very anthropocentric view of life! Do you even know what the word means?
In your opinion maybe.
And just how much of the environment do humans destroy in comparison. Gobbling up wetlands and habitat for more than cormorants. Using the cormorant as a scapegoat. This slaughter isn’t any different than the excuse for the ministry to allow the hunt for wolves to so call protect caribou or the spring bear hunt that leaves so many bear cubs to perish.
This is such a very bad idea…the same thing happened in Oregon and there the bird population totally collapsed. How utterly misguided this Ont government is. Who is complaining about these birds…the ones who have cottages…the ones who fish…just because a human is complaining does not mean we get rid of a species….this is so stupid…
So should the Lynx be shot because they are of no use…or how about the Warblers…better yet the Kingfishers…you comment is of no use…there are many things in this world that I could say get rid of because they are of no use…you being one of them…
Great points in the article and in comments. I agree that these types of decisions should be mostly placed onto the scientific environmental protection organizations.
The only thing I wish you could update if possible, is if you could add suggestions if this situation needs to be balanced with some kind of scientifically valid actions on our part.
Thank you for doing great job ?
Hi Olga, you could consider singing this petition to Minister Yakabuski: https://www.change.org/p/ontario-minister-of-natural-resources-and-forestry-john-yakabuski-stop-the-fall-hunt-of-double-crested-cormorants-in-ontario. Or for greater impact, you could directly contact your MPP.
Thank you, Anne, for helping to educate people about this indigenous and misunderstood species. While their guano seems ‘destructive’ at first, returning rich nutrients to the soil is important for the ecosystem. Some countries today still rely on bird guano for fertilizer, a practice that reaches back to the time of the Incas. At a time when the world’s biodiversity is suffering, Ontario should be proud of this success story.
I’m a hunter and proud of it, but I will not be hunting these birds. These birds and the doves that are also can be hunted , on my property no one that hunts there will be able to kill either bird !!!!!
This cull has not been initiated by hunters-not sure about anglers but it as I have been following this situation for years it seems it was local residents/lake user pushed. I am getting pretty sick of the blame being laid at hunters feet for such decisions just as I am with the useless gun bans being pushed thru in order to make it look like the Government is doing something about the completely unrelated, illegal firearms (mostly pistols) being used in shootings in cities. Almost all hunters I know do more for the environment, wildlife & fish then any armchair urbanite who doesnt even realize that the meat they are eating was once a living animal. At least hunters have the fortitude to face the ugly work of procuring their meat right from the source. I recently killed & butchered a whole cow for the first time and for anybody who has not had to do so I can relate that it was hard, hard disgusting work that took days. I t was not fun but the idea was to ensure that a perfectly edible cow was eaten & not sent to the dump. Until armchair critics are willing to get out & experince & do what the average hunter does they should realize their opinions hold no water!
Hi Sean, we would like to highlight that Ontario Nature does not oppose hunting that is sustainable and conducted in an ethical fashion, which unfortunately is not the case for the fall cormorant hunt.
It amazes me that this hunt is even going on. As a wildlife rehabber, I have gotten these birds in. The government talks of their destructive behavior towards the environment and the fishing industry yet, these calls to action are instigated by the Ontario anglers and hunters…whose main goal is to have no competition in their ‘sport’. The government and these groups call them “non-indigenous”, yet the government puts non-indigenous fish (salmon) in the lakes to increase the fishing licenses, they bring in non-indigenous ‘quail type’ birds (Chukar) from Thailand for hunters (that have managed to spread across Canada originating from the west coast). They ‘seed’ turkeys and wonder why their numbers have grown exponentially. The wild boars are becoming an issue too. Yet, their answer to their self created problems is always to kill. They do it with indigenous (bears, deer, birds, coyotes) and non-indigenous. It’s disgusting that through their self created problems, they appoint themselves executioners when it is their lack of knowledge that created the issues in the first place and, as is the way of the human species, they can’t think beyond a bandaid solution and never learn from their mistakes..
Why are politicians making wildlife decisions?
Controlling or managing wildlife by just shooting them for no other reason then reducing the population is a disgrace to wildlife. It just sounds like an opportunity to use wildlife as target practice and I don’t see any hunter actually retrieving a dead specimen if it has no value to them,
Nature always suffers at the hands of human greed, inconvenience or ignorance.
I would hope this decision would be overturned, but chances are it will not.
If you’d ever been to some of the Lake Erie Islands “before” and “after” cormorant invasions, you would agree that they need to be culled big time. Entire ecosystems completely destroyed, some of the richest habitats in Canada gone forever.
Hi Mireille, we agree there have been site-specific impacts (such as in Lake Erie islands). In such situations control measures, if deemed necessary, should be site-specific and science-based.
Every one of these distructive birds should b shot. Very simpley they r of no use.