Opposing sides on Newfoundland and Labrador's controversial moves to control the population of double-crested cormorants can agree on one things: they believe the aquaculture industry is at the heart of it.
But the industry itself and the provincial Department of Fisheries says that's just not true.
The seabirds are getting a lot of attention lately with outdoors enthusiasts applauding a limited hunt as a bid to protect wild fish, while biologists are pushing back against the plan and some of its reasoning.
Earlier this month, the province said the control plan — which will run on a permit basis — was necessary because of rising concerns that "rapidly increasing populations in localized areas will negatively impact native fish populations, cause property and environmental damage, and may conflict with other seabird nesting activity."
Specific areas of focus were outlined in the press release including fish habitats, water supplies and aquaculture operations.
Jamie Baker, the executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Aquaculture Industry Association, told the St. John's Morning Show Wednesday any claim that salmonid aquaculture is the driving force behind the population control issue is entirely false.
"If you've ever actually been on a farm site you'll clearly see pretty quickly that farmers have protective measures that effectively and safely prevent access to fish by cormorants or other birds," Baker said.
"That's really not an issue for the salmonid industry at all at this point, certainly not from cormorants or any other seabirds that might be a problem."
Baker was responding to a theory that seabird expert Bill Montevecchi express to CBC News earlier this week. "My guess is that there's been a big lobby from the aquaculture industry because of concerns with cormorants that are attracted to their open sea pens," he said.
As well, outdoorsman Gord Follett told CBC News he and others were pondering the same thing — even though they support controlling the bird population to protect fish stocks.
"Without any public consultation that we're aware of, I think that's the kicker here, some of us are of the opinion that this is all put in place because the aquaculture industry," Follett said.
When asked if there was any formal lobbying from the industry to control the cormorant population at all, Baker said there was none that he was aware of.
"We've double-checked just to be sure but there's just no reason for us to be doing that and certainly no need," he said.
"We have lots of different priorities in our sector, for sure, and that's certainly is not one of them that's ever come up at this point, for any reason whatsoever."
Potential control measures do not involving culling, hunting, says province
The provincial Department of Fisheries echoed what Baker said.
In a statement to CBC News, the department said "the decision to implement strategic and targeted control permits was not based on requests from the aquaculture industry or any other sector."
The department said the decision was actually driven by requests from communities for control tools, reports from fishermen of displacement of other bird species from coastal nesting areas and reports of the bird congregating in freshwater areas where salmon populations may be vulnerable.
Further, the province clarified what other control measures could include — outside of lethal — and a reason why the bird was added to its list of animals which may need to be controlled.
Control measures may include the use of audio or physical deterrence systems, neither of which was mentioned in an initial June 1 press release, which only stated "humane, lethal removal of birds."
"Potential control measures to address concerns about rapidly increasing populations of double-crested cormorants do not involve culling, hunting, or slaughtering birds," the statement said.
"The provincial government already issues control permits for other species that may potentially damage infrastructure, business operations, or public safety such as beaver, moose, and canids (e.g., coyote, fox)."
The department said, to date, it has received six requests for site-specific permits to control cormorant populations but is carefully evaluating the requests to determine if permits are warranted.
It said adding the double-crested cormorant to the list of species that may require targeted control is a proactive measure based on the experiences of other Canadian jurisdictions and indications of similar growth in double-crested cormorant populations in this province.
Permit requests opened on June 15.
Survey work is continuing to assess cormorant colonies around the island and research is ongoing "on a myriad of factors that may affect marine survival rates of wild salmon," the department said.