Controversy Over Cormorants

If there is a bird more despised by fisherman than the cormorant I surely do not know what it is.   Simply bring up the word cormorant to a fisherman and you will likely hear a litany of reasons why this bird should not exist anywhere on the face of the earth.   In other words, the bird is simply evil and the prime culprit of many of our fishing woes.

My first introduction to this bird’s negative impact on our aquatic ecosystem was each time we would catch a stringer full of nice yellow perch in the spring.   The hope always was that if the fish were caught early in the season they wouldn’t be too “wormy,” but later, on as the summer progressed, far too often the perch were so full of parasitic little grubs that they were unfit to eat by most of our standards.

The reason?   Cormorants.   It is told, whether total fact or fiction, that their digestive tracts are so laden with parasitic worms that the excrement and regurgitations pass this undesirable nemesis to the aquaculture…where it inflicts the fish in unpalatable ways.   Literally you can filet a fish with these parasites and you can see dozens of little white grubs destroying the otherwise nice looking filets.

But the main problem with cormorants seems to be their numbers.   Not only do these birds pass along their parasites, but they are voracious consumers of young walleye fry and other game fish, as well.   To most fisherman, enough is enough.   War is about to be declared on the Double Crested Cormorant despite the fact it is a Federally protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Plans are currently underway with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minnesota DNR, and other agencies to reduce the population of cormorants by 80% on Leech Lake in northern Minnesota.   The effort, while applauded by the sportsman community, is now being protested by folks who dispute the need for such culling.   One researcher at the U of M wants to conduct more studies to further strengthen this cause and effect decline in certain fish populations on one of Minnesota’s premier fishing waters.   These stall tactics seem a little self-serving for the researcher.   The point is, even with a flock reduction the research can go on…but prolonging the inevitable only serves to do further damage to the water resource around where these birds tend to congregate.

So are sportsmen being unfair to a bird that has been hated through the ages by many fishermen?   Maybe so, but when we put a restitution value on our fish of $30/fish or more for law violators who take too many fish…why then should a species that is famous for “taking more than their fair share” not also be held accountable in some manner.   True, fishermen who take too many fish must pay with their pocketbook…whereas the only way the cormorants can pay is with their life.   That is the way nature works…and when an over abundance of birds occur population control is necessary to prescribe.

During the upcoming weeks I’m sure we will be hearing lots more on this very volatile issue.   If we look to what has happened in other states over this very matter, usually it is sportsmen clashing with protectionist groups such as The Humane Society of the U.S. who look to spoil these wildlife management efforts.   Ultimately, who knows what will happen.

In Minnesota, fisherman have a very strong voice that can be heard by the DNR in several ways.   One of those ways is the traditional complaint process with phone calls, letters and e-mails complaining that something needs to be done to protect and bolster our fishing resources.   The other way is much more subtle, except to the DNR.   When sportsmen become frustrated to the point they stop buying fishing licenses…I do believe this action speaks louder than words.   And in the process, it looks to be necessary that a few cormorants must die to prevent this from happening.

© 2005 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.