United Fish and Games Club chair says cormorant population could be on the rise again

MANITOULIN—The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has stated that the cormorant population has declined on Lake Huron and stabilized, however United Fish and Games Club of Manitoulin (UFGCM) chair Jim Sloss believes the bird with a voracious appetite may be back on the rise.

“A cormorant survey on Lake Huron indicated the cormorant population declined by almost 40 percent following the population peak around the year 2000,” responded MNRF Sr. Media Relations Officer Jolanta Kowalski to inquiries from The Expositor. “The population remained stable at lower numbers from 2004 to 2009 when the most recent survey was completed.”

Mr. Sloss said that the population did stabilize for a period of time, but that it appears to be on the rise again.

“We are seeing a resurgence in Western Manitoulin,” said Mr. Sloss. “We are concerned the population is on the increase right as the fisheries are coming back. There has definitely been an increase in numbers around Lake Kagawong and along the North Shore.”

“I would have thought that they (the MNRF) would introduce a control program here, but it’s probably not going to happen,” he added.

Mr. Sloss said that when he and other Islanders started the UFGCM in 1998, a major focus was calling on the government to control the cormorant population on Manitoulin. The campaign Public Enemy Number One sought to inform Islanders of the increasing cormorant population and the problems it posed to the Island’s fishery and subsequent sportfishing tourism.

“No one wanted to then, or now, eradicate the species, but we wanted to see a reduction in the numbers and we need to again,” explained Mr. Sloss. “The species declined by itself, as often happens after a large peak, but if nothing is done the numbers will rebound, as they have already started to do and we won’t have any way to control it.”

Mr. Sloss said the UFGCM is working on a number of hatchery programs across the Island, hoping that stocking the Island lakes will continue to improve the fisheries.

The MNRF said it isn’t concerned about the cormorant’s impacts on fish and other species at this point and has no control programs planned for Manitoulin.

“While cormorants do consume fish and may damage vegetation where they nest in large numbers, that doesn’t necessarily mean there are negative impacts that would warrant management action,” said Ms. Kowalski. “Research on potential cormorant impacts has shown a range of results, and Ontario would require information on specific impacts to consider action under current policy. Much recent research shows cormorants in different areas of the Great Lakes are now consuming primarily the exotic round goby as this invasive fish has expanded throughout much of the Great Lakes.”

“Ontario continues to manage cormorants at Prequ’ile Provincial Park to protect habitat values using non-lethal methods. MNRF is not considering any other management programs at this time.”