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.

The Real Turkeys Are The Landowners

When modern day turkey hunting began in Minnesota 25 plus years ago folks were just excited to have an opportunity to once again hunt this majestic game bird…and to do so close to home.   Eventually, however, the landowner/sportsmen concluded that if they house and feed these birds all year long they should have some special privileges when it comes time to hunt them.

So, eventually the state game laws evolved allowing for a landowner preference system whereby if someone owned sufficient land in turkey country they could apply for landowner permits and get some preferential treatment in the permit draw.   The one small caveat, if the landowner uses this special privilege he would then be obligated to let hunters onto his property in kind.   The DNR even published lists of successful landowners and where their property was located.

To me this was always a gray area because nothing controlled how many hunters the landowner had to let onto his property.   If the landowner let a few of his friends hunt…he was allowing hunting on his property and was in total compliance of the law.   For years many of the landowners in Minnesota also found ways to abuse the system and get their turkey permits under this system.

Okay, let’s get something straight up-front.   Before you start thinking this is sour grapes of the have and have nots, you need to know that I AM a landowner and that in years past I HAVE applied for the landowner preference.   More recently, however, I have applied as a regular resident mostly because I do not want to feel obligated to have hunters knocking at my door all spring…and besides, the hunters I wanted to apply with as a group were not landowners.   To apply as a group you all need to qualify similarly.

At current issue is a change in the Minnesota turkey hunting law from last year.   Previously, if you qualified as a landowner you could hunt your land or any land within the same hunting zone.   But no more…starting this year…when hunters fortunate enough to be landowners applied for the permit they were required to only hunt on the property they claimed.   You see, there were landowners who had virtually no suitable turkey habitat applying and getting the landowner draw…with no intentions of ever hunting their property for obvious reasons.

Apparently this new law change has infuriated some SE Minnesota landowners to the point they are closing off their property entirely to turkey hunters.   To all of these landowners I say grow up and be reasonable.   You’ve gotten away with skirting the system all these years and it certainly wasn’t for the betterment of the sport.   If you have property with an abundance of turkeys…either hunt it and let others hunt there…or apply in the regular drawing like the rest of us.   What the law changed last year only made things right for everyone involved in this fine sport.

After all, seeking out and obtaining privileges under false pretenses is simply not right.   What the Minnesota Legislature did last year was simply require a landowner to hunt their own property if they are claiming it for the special privileges.   But when these landowners know that hunting their property for turkeys was a futile effort, and they would no longer be able to hunt a neighbor’s property by still applying as a landowner…then the tit for tat behavior began.   Now this spring some hunters are discovering landowners with a chip on their shoulder who are not allowing any hunting on their land until the law is changed.

We do not need this sort of divide in the hunting world.   We need to see a certain sort of cohesiveness between all landowners and the sportsmen who want to hunt on their land.

I am calling for the Minnesota DNR to totally revise their turkey hunting allocation system.   Quit hiding behind some governmental smoke and mirrors under the guise of wildlife management, and open up the Minnesota turkey season for all to enjoy on an equal basis.   Every Minnesota resident should be able to annually plan for a spring turkey hunt without fingers being crossed hoping for such an opportunity with a draw system.   The time has come.   Make the change.

Furthermore, and in the meantime, the time has come for certain landowners in this state to quit acting like a bunch of pouting kids who didn’t get what they wanted.   You are blessed with a resource that all of us have paid for to put on your property.   Quit acting like a victim…and for those who haven’t even seen a turkey on their property for the past 20 years but insist on applying as a landowner anyway…go look in the mirror.   You just broke your 20-year streak.

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

Worms, Lobsters and Crabs feel NO pain

You have to hand it to the Norwegian government…once and for all they have settled the burning question in the minds of many sportsman:   Do critters such as worms used for bait feel pain?   Here’s what the study concluded:

Worms squirming on a fishhook feel no pain – nor do lobsters and crabs cooked in boiling water.

"The common earthworm has a very simple nervous system – it can be cut in two and continue with its business," Professor Wenche Farstad, who chaired the panel that drew up the report, said in a story reported by Reuters.

Norway might have considered banning the use of live worms as fish bait if the study had found they felt pain, but Farstad said: "It seems to be only reflex curling when put on the hook … They might sense something, but it is not painful and does not compromise their well-being."

The government called for the study on pain, discomfort and stress in invertebrates to help in the planned revision of Norway’s animal protection law.

Farstad said most invertebrates, including lobsters and crabs boiled alive, do not feel pain because, unlike mammals, they do not have a big brain to read the signals.

There you have it…the next time you get into a good-natured argument with a pal over simple invertebrates feeling pain…you have some solid evidence to back up your argument.   Rumor also has it that mowing the lawn does NOT cause the blades of grass any discomfort either, but I guess that study has not yet been completed so for the time being pain-free grass is just a hypothesis on my part.

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