Cormorant control: After years of advocacy, N.L. gives go-ahead for culling

·3 min read
A  cormorant snacks on a koi fish in Bowring Park in St. John's. (Submitted by Kylie Goodyear - image credit)
A cormorant snacks on a koi fish in Bowring Park in St. John's. (Submitted by Kylie Goodyear - image credit)
Submitted by Kylie Goodyear
Submitted by Kylie Goodyear

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has introduced new measures to address what it says are growing concerns over the double-crested cormorant — a seabird that outdoors enthusiasts have long said has decimated fish populations and is dangerous to the environment.

In a press release Wednesday, the provincial Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture said starting June 15 it will accept requests for permits to allow the "humane, lethal removal of birds" from specific areas such as fish habitats, water supplies or aquaculture operations.

The department said concerns have arisen that "rapidly increasing populations in localized areas will negatively impact native fish populations, cause property and environmental damage, and may conflict with other sea bird nesting activity."

Wayne Barney, a senior manager in the department's wildlife division in Corner Brook, said Thursday complaints have come in from municipalities concerned about water supplies, and from residents in the Waterford Valley area of St. John's specifically.

"Their guano is quite toxic. These birds roost in a lot of fresh water areas and currently there's no mechanism for us to be able to address such a problem," Barney said.

"The permit is a means for us to be able to bridge that because we do have the capacity to be able to issue permits where problems exist."

Cliff Doran/Submitted by Gord Follett
Cliff Doran/Submitted by Gord Follett

People who receive permits are required to report back to the wildlife division with cormorants they have killed. Barney said there isn't a limit but the point of the permit system is to address problems in specific areas, not to provide open-season hunting of the bird.

Hunters want in

But some advocates are wondering about the timing and want more details.

Gord Follett, a former editor of the Newfoundland Sportsman magazine and an avid outdoorsman, said the permit system is a good step but he wants to know more about why government is introducing it now.

In an opinion piece published by CBC Newfoundland and Labrador on May 29, Follett wrote about why the province should introduce a cormorant hunt.

"We're not sure now if the average hunter can ask for a permit," he said.

"We'll see how this plays out. We'll see how difficult it is to get a permit for areas where we see, where I see, cormorants are scooping up the fish and their droppings are so toxic and killing the soil and trees around them."

Submitted by Gord Follett
Submitted by Gord Follett

Double-crested cormorants feed on fish and their numbers during spring and summer have increased in many areas of Newfoundland in recent years, said Follett. Most depart in early autumn, he said, but they can still decimate fish stocks.

Follett said hunting the bird isn't about culling as many as possible but about controlling its numbers.

Bird watchers and anglers have been vocal about the impacts the birds may be having on the fish populations in the Waterford River and in Bowring Park in St. John's specifically.

"It's a whole different kettle of fish, so to speak, wondering how to take care of them in the cities and urban areas," said Follett.

"I guess if they're really that much of a problem, and government is coming up with this, then they'll help us solve that problem as well."

The province said survey work will also begin this summer to assess the number of cormorant colonies on the island to determine if further action is required to protect local ecosystems.

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