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ConservationLast Updated 2/1/13
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Double-crested Cormorant Population Issue

Updates & References:

For the latest NYSDEC information and updates on its Cormorant management plans and activities, see the DEC website.

FNYSBC Resolution: Cormorants, 1998

FNYSBC Resolution: Bird Population Management, 2003

See further updates on the Conservation Actions summary page.

The Double-crested Cormorant is a colonial nesting species, the which occurs in New York State on Lakes Erie, Ontario, Oneida and Champlain as well as on Long Island. The Lake Ontario population increased through the 1950's but declined in the 1960's and 1970's as did other piscivorous species due to high levels of toxic contaminants in the food chain. Implementation of water quality standards and pollution controls, and the resulting improved water quality has in part allowed the Double-crested Cormorant population to rebound. The number of breeding pairs went from a few hundred in 1970's to more than 8,000 in 1997 according to the NYSDEC. Currently the largest nesting colony is on Little Galloo Island west of Henderson Harbor on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. Concurrent to the rebounding of the Double-crested Cormorant, was the beginning of the Lake Ontario salmonid stocking program and the associated sport fishing industry. However, in 1992 Double-crested Cormorants were documented feeding on recently stocked salmon in the Henderson Harbor area by a charter boat captain. This raised concern among those whose income depends at least in part on the sport fishery that the Double-crested Cormorant will be responsible for the destruction of the sport fishery unless the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) implements a management program on the species.

A citizen's task force was convened in 1994 to develop management objectives for the Double-crested Cormorant on Lake Ontario and Oneida Lake. The task force, made up of individuals representing sport fishermen, tourism, environmental and other stakeholders presented the NYSDEC with suggested management objectives. To implement some management objectives the NYSDEC must receive permits from the USFWS because the Double-crested Cormorant is a migratory species and therefore protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, implemented by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The NYSDEC has received permits based on task force recommendations to 1) reduce cormorant competition with other nesting waterbirds particularly the Common Tern on Oneida Lake, 2) to reduce cormorants at fish stocking sites and 3) to prevent cormorants from expanding to islands other than the main colony at Little Galloo. The NYSDEC had also changed its fish stocking methods including offshore stocking, stocking earlier - before cormorants arrive, and stocking inshore areas at night. Food habit studies have been performed from 1992-1996 resulting in data showing that 80 percent of the cormorant diet consists of forage fish (alewife) and pan fish (perch). In addition, the USFWS is trying to involve Canadian officials in discussion of cormorant populations regionally. Recently, Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) announced their intention to introduce legislation establishing hunting seasons for Double-crested Cormorant which they feel is necessary to prevent further damage to fish stocks and associated fishing industries. Lobbying behind this effort is also coming from the aquaculturists and catfish farmers in the southeast who are economically impacted by fish eating birds - among them the cormorant. Any decision to manage populations of Double-crested Cormorants should be based on well-conducted scientific studies and should be assessed for the benefits not only to the fisheries but also to the habitat and other birds species. A full discussion of issues involving the entire Lake Ontario system need to occur as changes in the water quality, fish populations, and introduction of exotic species all influence the dynamics of the system - including the human economics. Public officials have heard much from the recreational fishing industry on this issue. They have not heard as much from birders and wildlife enthusiasts. If you would like to impact the decision-making process regarding the issue of Double-crested Cormorant control please send your comments to the people listed below.

Congressman John McHugh 2441 Rayburn House Office Building Washington DC 12248 PHONE(202) 225-4611 FAX (202) 226-0621

Assemblyman Michael Bragman LOB 926 Albany, NY 12248 PHONE (518) 455-4567

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky LOB 625 Albany, NY 12248 PHONE (518) 455-5753

copy Ron Lambertson, Regional Director, USFWS 300 Westgate Center Dr. Hadley, MA 01035-9589

and John Cahill Commissioner NYS DEC 50 Wolf Road Albany, NY 12233

Wednesday July 29, 1998 at least 850 dead cormorants were found on Little Galloo Island, New York. Another 100 birds were either dead or dying. Partially paralyzed chicks were euthanized by NYSDEC staff from Region 6 in Watertown. One pile of dead chicks contained 91 bodies. Buckets of 12 gauge shotgun shells were recovered at the scene. NYSDEC and USFWS are investigating.

From New York Birders - July 1999   "Cormorant Update"

Fines and home confinement sentences were given to ten of the North County fishermen responsible for the killing of more than 850 Double-crested Cormorants on Little Galloo Island last July.  Sentencing will take place in August.  In addition, the USFWS turned down the NYSDEC's permit application to kill 300 adult cormorants this summer for research purposes but did return a permit to allow oiling of cormorant eggs during the 1999 nesting season.  Oiling of eggs could possibly prevent 90% of the eggs from hatching and thereby eliminate any recruitment into the population for this year.

by Mary Alice Koeneke

March 7, 1999  Update

The NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has released The Final Report: To Assess the Impact of Double-crested Cormorant Predation on Smallmouth Bass and Other Fishes of the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario.  This report was a co-operative effort of the NYSDEC Bureau of Fisheries and the United States Geological Survey Biological Resources Division. " The primary goal of the five-year management plan is to improve the benefits people derive from Lake Ontario's eastern basin ecosystem by:

  1. restoring the structure and function of the warmwater fish community,
  2. reducing the negative impacts of double-crested cormorants on nesting habitats and other colonial waterbird species,
  3. improve the quality of smallmouth bass and other fisheries, and
  4. foster a greater appreciation for Great Lakes colonial waterbird resources."

Four objectives have been determined to help accomplish this goal:

  1. Increase the adult smallmouth bass population and associated fishery by at least twofold from 1995-98 levels and enhance fishing opportunities for other species. 
  2. Develop management plans for Little Galloo Island WMA and for the eastern basin so that local residents can benefit from one of the largest colonial waterbird colonies in North America 
  3. Maintaining and, where possible, improving upon actions/strategies designed to limit double-crested cormorant predation on (stocked) salmon and trout 
  4. Limiting expansion of double-crested cormorant nesting sites in the eastern basin of Lake Ontario in favor of nesting sites for other water birds (e.g. black-crowned night heron, Caspian tern) and to suppress double-crested cormorant impacts to vegetation on these sites.

Four action alternatives are being considered to achieve these objectives:

  1. Maintain current management which includes protection of stocked fish, and preventing the establishment of new colonies of double-crested cormorants;
  2. Management to improve the fishery at a moderate rate, which might include reduction of nesting success techniques and harassment of cormorants;
  3. Management for fishery recovery at a moderately fast rate which might include the reduction of nesting success techniques, harassment, and limited lethal control of double-crested cormorants, and
  4. Management for rapid recovery of fish stocks, which might include aggressive lethal and non-lethal control techniques on double-crested cormorants. 

A presentation of these objectives and action alternatives was recently made at a Federation board of Directors meeting and although the Federation officers and directors present at the meeting are sympathetic to the problem at hand, no recommended alternatives/actions have been endorsed by the Federation at this time. Full review of the report is ongoing and if anyone is interested in receiving and commenting on the report it can be obtained by contacting the NYSDEC, Division of Public Affairs and Education, Region 6, Dulles State Office Building, 317 Washington Street, Watertown, NY 13601-3787. Phone: 315.785.2252 or the NYSDEC website.

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