Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog

Ford’s Policies Dangerous to Trees, Cormorants and to Us

DECEMBER 14, 2020

By Barrie Kent MacKay, Director

Oh, the irony. The Ontario government, under Premier Doug Ford, provides it in abundance. 

Consider Bill 229, a recent omnibus Act passed by the same Ontario government that calls cormorants “gamebirds”.  In keeping with calling things they are not, the Act is bizarrely called the Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act. It contains a provision that would gut the ability of various regions and regional Conservation Authorities to protect the environment. The language is ambiguous, but in the words of the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), risk lies in “…the creation of a new process to bypass conservation authorities’ science-based decision making and force us to issue permits where Ministers’ Zoning Orders have been issued by the Province in support of development. Conservation authorities use science to fulfill our mandate of protecting our communities and conserving natural resources.”

Ford puts Developers first

All this may sound tediously dull but it means the provincial government is giving itself dictatorial powers to benefit “developers” without regard to damage done to the environment and without consideration for the right of local taxpayers to have a say about what happens in their own community.

One element of the irony is that COVID-19 is given as the excuse – to put the benefit of “developers”, the creators of urban sprawl, ahead of the long-term benefit of a healthy environment for all of us, for generations to come. Surely if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is the importance of science-based policy and action.

While Schedule 6 is the most egregious part of the bill, Schedules 8 and 40 are also concerning to conservationists. The Act repeals the Crown Forest Sustainability Act of 1994 addressing forest management that overlaps regulations under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) and related matters, leaving tree cutters potentially exempt from certain provisions of the ESA in Crown forests. What this will mean is that trees and other natural environments will be compromised or lost even if it is to the detriment of threatened or endangered species.

Local Conservation under Threat

By gutting the province’s locally responsible Conservation Authorities, we revert back to the risks such Authorities mitigate, one of which caused me a childhood trauma.  I was eleven when Hurricane Hazel, a category four hurricane that had dropped to tropical storm status, hit Toronto in 1954. It had already killed hundreds of people and caused immense property damage in Hispaniola and through the eastern US, but it stalled when reaching Toronto, leading to massive flooding and loss of life and property. Eighty one people died. Most loss of life derived from placement of homes and infrastructure in ravines and on floodplains and removal of soil-holding vegetation on sloped land. It was an early lesson to me in the power of nature, the risk we take when we don’t act without considering consequences. There had been warnings and concerns leading to the Conservation Authorities Act being passed eight years earlier. It allowed municipalities within a given watershed the ability to create a Conservation Authority and, in conjunction with other agencies, to manage the land to the benefit of society by taking into account the expertise of all stakeholders and making science-based zoning decisions. While risk avoidance is their primary mandate, they have served, often admirably, to protect locally-determined environmental interests. Hurricane Hazel taught us why it all mattered, as COVID-19 should be teaching us, now, the dangers inherent in keeping animals in close-confinement and unnatural, unsanitary, conditions.

The Greenbelt in Danger

Pushback to Schedule 6, the most dangerous part of Bill 299, has been enormous, but to no avail as the Bill was passed. David Crombie, chair of the Greenbelt Council, and six other Council members have resigned in protest. Crombie is a former Member of Parliament for the federal branch of the same party, the Conservatives, now governing Ontario, and he is a former Mayor of Toronto.

The Greenbelt Council seeks to protect an area north of Canada’s most populated region, the Greater Toronto Area, that provides the origins of the watershed that services millions of people, homes and businesses. Protection from what? Badly planned development in the absence of the very kind of environmental review process the Ontario government now seeks to sideline, the lesson of not just Hurricane Hazel, but COVID-19, increases in bush fires, depletion of biodiversity, increase in death from heat and air pollution and so much else, ignored. In his own words Crombie states, “Ontarians can successfully realize the great values and benefits of the Greenbelt (also at risk from this legislation) through the effectiveness of watershed planning, the strength and resilience of the Conservation Authorities and the power of public participation and open debate.  It is now clear that the government’s direction … disastrously assaults all three of these primary conditions.  “This is not policy and institutional reform. This is high-level bombing and needs to be resisted.”


In a similarly stupid decision that ignored science-based advice from top experts, as well as government biologists, the government of Ontario declared the double-crested cormorant a “gamebird”.

The cormorant, an obligate fish-eating relative of pelicans and gannets, is about the opposite of a gamebird, first and foremost having flesh so rank as to render it almost inedible. It is absurdly easy to shoot, taking away the “sportiness” that hunters sometimes claim to value. And while most “gamebirds” are prolific, often laying up to a dozen eggs, the cormorant is lucky to lay about half that number, and experience has taught us it is highly vulnerable to endangerment. Long established tradition and law has decreed that legal hunting be based on conservation principles and usage. Ethical hunters eat what they kill, and refer to the birds they take as a “harvest”.  They also forever assure us that they hunt within limits established to prevent endangering the species.

That all got thrown out the window, and only under intense pressure did the government relent a small amount by reducing the hunting season so it would not include the breeding period when there are young dependent upon their parents’ care. And in defiance of the guiding principles of gamebird management for over a century throughout the world, the Ford government, through some tricky legislative hijinks of dubious validity, declared it okay to kill, but not eat the birds, so long as their corpses were properly disposed and not left to rot, although, predictably, that is exactly what has happened, as some hunters, themselves, predicted.  Gone, now, is any pretense that hunting is an ethical exercise, carefully managed to put food on the table, which is not to say there are not hunters who do restrict themselves to such practice, and won’t shoot what they can’t eat. What Ford, and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters who so strongly lobbied for this move, are appealing to are the “slob hunters”, the ones who shoot for the sake of killing.

Slob Hunting

Actually, the slob hunters are being catered to not to provide sport or meat, but to reduce cormorant numbers. While cormorants are among a large number of birds and other wildlife species that eat fish, the evidence that, in balance, they don’t seriously deplete numbers of the fish species coveted by both commercial and recreational anglers is overwhelmingly demonstrated by numerous studies and research conducted for more than a century. Politicians seem increasingly to regard the dismissal of science amongst the electorate as a trend worth exploiting in search of votes.

Still, the science does show that cormorants, like all apex predators within naturally evolved ecosystems, are not a threat to prey population size, and so a second concern is evoked.  Cormorant excrement is so rich in nutriments that if concentrated, specifically on the ground under nesting colonies, it may kill off vegetation, including trees. Never mind that the number of trees lost to cormorants in Ontario any given year would be miniscule, barely counted in the dozens, if even that many. Without being able to say what number would be the “right” number of cormorants to kill, and with no means of determining how many were killed anyway, a provision was made by the Ontario government that allowed hunters to kill, and waste, the birds, with an absurdly high bag limit of fifteen per day during the hunting season.

The wrong moves

But this is not about cormorants. It’s about irony, hypocrisy, stupidity, and I would add mendacity to that odious list.

This is not the first bone-headed move by this party, a party which, it may be worth noting, most people who voted in the last provincial election, did not support!  It does not matter. They can do what they want and if anything goes wrong, hey, they can always blame the cormorants.

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Column: The blame game

by David Suzuki on Tuesday Sep 29 2020


A double-crested cormorant — getting blamed. Photo from Pixabay

Most of us can remember a time in childhood when we were caught doing something wrong and pointed a finger at someone else for the misdeed. We might even still feel guilty about it.

Research shows blaming others doesn’t only harm the wrongfully accused; it can also harm those who blame, especially when it becomes pervasive in a culture. “Groups and organizations with a rampant culture of blame have a serious disadvantage when it comes to creativity, learning, innovation, and productive risk-taking,” according to the Harvard Business Review.

Blame culture is rampant in wildlife “management.” Throughout Canada, governments are implementing culling programs, blaming predators for declining wildlife populations, even though humans are at the root of the problem.

Nature is complex. It’s difficult to determine whether culling even works, and some studies show tampering with nature by isolating and killing one species can do more harm than good.

Yet on July 31, the Ontario government announced a 106-day fall hunt on double-crested cormorants starting September 15, allowing hunters to take 15 birds daily with no obligation to report kills and no provincial oversight of total birds killed. The hunt is likely a result of lobbying. Ontario’s cormorant management review states, “Ontario sport and commercial fishermen have expressed concerns that increasing DCCO [double-crested cormorant] numbers are having adverse effects on fish stocks and that steps should be taken to control cormorant populations.”

The same review, though, finds cormorants haven’t been the main cause of dwindling fish populations: “Historical declines in the Great Lakes fish populations that led to the DCCO control program appear to have been caused by overfishing, invasion by sea lamprey, and loss of aquatic habitat (e.g., loss of spawning grounds and contamination by pesticides and other toxic chemicals).” Clearly, an untargeted, non-localized, unmonitored approach is not a good solution to perceived problems today.

Along the Pacific Coast, seals and sea lions are often blamed for declining salmon populations. The U.S. recently granted permission for hundreds of sea lions to be killed. According to a spokesperson, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is considering similar actions here. But sea lions and seals eat dozens of other fish, including some that prey on salmon.

More than 100 marine predators eat salmon and sometimes predators become prey, depending on size. According to David Suzuki Foundation senior scientist Scott Wallace, “There are about 140 different species in the ocean that eat salmon, and we’ve chosen to highlight seals and sea lions. There’s a long history of villainizing and scapegoating seals and sea lions, but I think it’s quite short-sighted to think that we can manipulate an ecosystem to enhance a single species.”

In Alberta and B.C., governments have sanctioned and paid to kill wolves, bears and cougars in efforts to keep imperilled caribou herds alive. Research shows these culls are having “no detectable effect” on recovering caribou. It’s true that wolves and other predators are affecting struggling caribou populations, but it’s mainly because roads and other industrial disturbances increase overall predator success by providing sightlines and travel corridors.

Industrial activity is the primary cause of boreal woodland caribou decline, but wolves and other predators are taking the hit. In Alberta, strychnine is often used to poison wolves, with impacts cascading throughout the food web.

The role of any animal within its ecological niche is far more complicated than the single predator-prey interaction that culling purportedly tries to control. Cormorants and other birds eat fish, but scientists say that, globally, bird excrement provides nutrients for coral reefs, which close to one-quarter of ocean fish depend on to survive.

Our blame game is growing tired. It’s preventing the creativity and innovation that allows us to recognize nature’s complexity. In a September 1 open letter to Ontario’s environment minister, 51 scientists called for a “science-based, detailed and peer-reviewed approach” to address cormorant stewardship.

Humans need to recognize when we’re failing to effectively “manage” the natural world that supports us — when our actions are harming or destroying ecosystems and need to be rethought. We must grow up, take responsibility and stop scapegoating other species for our mistakes.

Wildlife has co-existed for thousands of years, predators and prey each playing their part in a complex, symbiotic dance. It’s our actions that are out of step.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Boreal Project Manager Rachel Plotkin.


<> Column: The blame game

Most of us can remember a time in childhood when we were caught doing something wrong and pointed a finger at someone else for the misdeed. We might even still feel guilty about it. Research shows blaming others doesn’t only harm the wrongfully accused; it can also harm those who blame, especially when it becomes pervasive in a culture. “Groups and organizations with a rampant culture of blame have a serious disadvantage when it comes to creativity, learning, innovation, and productive risk-taking,” according to the Harvard Business Review.

Peaceful Parks mounts opposition to cormorant kills


SEPTEMBER 23, 2020

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

ONTARIO – The Peaceful Parks Coalition is coordinating opposition against
open season on double-crested cormorants declared by the provincial
government Sept. 15 through to the end of the year. Biologists have noted
that most cormorants will have departed for the south by the end of October.

After reading a column questioning the need for the hunt in Nation Valley
News, PPC’s Ana Valastro called from Toronto to say her group is building
resistance across the province. Valastro is looking for volunteers along the
St. Lawrence River to report hunts and cormorant kills.

There are affiliated groups in Kingston and in the Rideau Lakes keeping an
eye on the process, Valastro said. At one time, there was a volunteer
working out of Brockville but that’s no longer the case.

A native species automatically protected, that designation was removed to
permit hunters to bag up to 15 cormorants a day in a “fall harvest” as long
as they hold a valid license. They aren’t required to report their kills
only to properly dispose of inedible carcasses. which opponents claim won’t
always happen.

Valastro insisted cormorants have been much maligned as ugly nuisances that
eat too much fish – robbing them from human anglers – and whose droppings
destroy vegetation, some of the damage located within view of affluent

In fact, the birds are beautiful and graceful, Valastro stated. For the most
part, they eat non-game or commercial fish and cause limited damage to
vegetation. Opponents have called the open hunt “reckless”, a “disgusting
slaughter,” claiming cormorants have just reached a sustainable level after
near decimation over decades.

They maintain problem areas should be managed humanely on a documented
localized basis; and they point out that no useful data will be garnered
from the hunt because results aren’t being recorded.

The Big Rideau Lake branch of PPC has reported shots fired and cormorants
killed. The branch says there are only about 50 birds on the lake at the
moment, members of a small resident colony. One cottager complained that
cormorants are being unfairly vilified for everything from eating their
weight in fish daily to driving out the loons.

“If you know who these hunters are, educate them,” the Big Rideau branch
stated. “They’re not hurting our fish populations, nor are their numbers

PPC in Kingston reported the number of cormorants on five islands has
dropped from about 5,000 to 2,000 with the annual migration already
underway. A volunteer discovered one dead bird but no hunters on site,
possibly because winds make it precarious to approach the islands much of
the time.

Valastro said she had little information on cormorant numbers east of
Kingston and hopes to improve reporting from this area.

Ontario’s cormorant ‘hunt’ is based on pandering, not science

These birds, which nest along the Ottawa and Rideau river systems, are native; they’re not intruders, says Ted Cheskey. Why kill a bird we’re not going to eat?

Article content

Last winter, the Ontario government proposed an amendment to hunting laws to allow a massive slaughter of the double-crested cormorant, a native species. Details included year-round hunting, a “bag” limit of 50 per day, and no obligation to recover the carcass of a dead or injured bird. The original proposal was a parody of hunting, rather than a serious proposition.

Nature Canada was one of many reputable organizations that pushed back, rightfully categorizing the hunt as inhumane, misguided, lacking in scientific justification and outright dangerous.

The concept of culling cormorants does have supporters, notably the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. That said, it is hard to believe that the first proposal was anything more than testing the waters.

The government came back with a revised proposition that seems more reasonable, at least on the surface. For starters, the hunt is limited to the fall, which addresses a key concern about the inhumanity of killing birds at their nesting sites and high risk to other colonial species.

The government also decreased the daily bag limit to 15 cormorants. To compare with other hunted species in Ontario, the daily bag limit is six ducks, five geese, 10 rails (yes, rails can be hunted) and 15 mourning doves.

Finally, hunters must make every effort to collect killed or injured birds, and if they do not eat them, they must be disposed of in a sanitary way.

While the province is calling this a hunt, the question should be asked: Would anyone eat a cormorant? The interest in having the hunt is not from a culinary perspective. It is in part because some people hate cormorants and believe they are taking “their” fish. So why call it a hunt if you are not killing the birds for food?  That creates an ethical dilemma for people who accept hunting if the object of the hunt is consumed.

The proposal lacks population targets that are the hallmark of waterfowl management in Canada and the United States, where bag limits are established based on targets to maintain healthy populations. No such objective is identified for the cormorant cull in Ontario. Without a population objective, the cull simply appears to be pandering to local interests. In other words, it is a decision based on politics rather than science.

The double-crested cormorant is a native, fish-eating species that was almost driven to extinction in much of Canada from blatant persecution that manifests itself in illegal shooting and assaults on their nesting colonies as well as the effects of DDT on its reproductive ability. Once DDT was banned in the early 1970’s, double-crested cormorants mounted a remarkable recovery, not unlike the bald eagle, particularly in the Great Lakes Region.


Now widespread in the Great Lakes Region, double-crested cormorants nest in colonies along parts of the Ottawa and Rideau river systems, including islands on the Ottawa River near the Prince of Wales Bridge and Conroy Island in Gatineau. There is a large colony on Big Rideau Lake. Cormorants are migratory birds, leaving eastern Ontario for the Atlantic Ocean in the fall, and returning in the spring.

Their numbers have responded to abundant populations of exotic, invasive fish species such as alewives and smelt. As a colonial nesting species that often chooses islands for colony sites where other colonial species such as gulls, terns, and herons also nest, cormorants have been the object of hate and false narratives, such as that cormorants are not native species and that they destroy commercial and sport fish stocks.

What is really needed to address local concerns about cormorant populations and their impact on local fisheries is localized management, which could include organized culls as was done successfully for a decade on Middle Island in Lake Erie. It can also be done successfully without shooting. The Toronto Region Conservation Authority has successfully and transparently implemented non-lethal cormorant control at Tommy Thompson Park for many years.

Such an approach would be far better than disguising the broad, province-wide cull as a hunt, which lacks scientific justification and objectives.

Ted Cheskey, Naturalist Director at Nature Canada, a national non-profit conservation organization, leads the organization’s domestic and international bird conservation initiatives. 

‘Nothing more than a slaughter’: Cormorant hunting season officially opens

Nate VandermeerMulti-Skilled Journalist


Published Tuesday, September 15, 2020 3:47PM EDT

Volume 90%

Legal, controlled hunt of double–crested cormorant angers local cottager at Big Rideau Lake. CTV’s Nate Vandermeer reports.

BROCKVILLE, ONT. — As Tim Poupore launched his boat into Big Rideau Lake Tuesday morning, a different kind of chill was in the air.

The temperature was around four degrees, but it was the official opening of the cormorant hunting season that had some lake residents feeling bitter.

“My parents built a cottage here back in the late sixties,” said Poupore on the way to check in on a cormorant colony on the lake. “I remember coming out to look at them then. My memory is that they’ve always been here.”

Big Rideau Lake Cormorant colony

September 15 marked the opening day for hunting cormorants in the province, a season that will last until December 31.

Hunters are allowed a daily bag limit of 15 birds.

However, there is an ongoing debate about hunting the birds. Some people, including in government, say they are a nuisance and that they destroy other wildlife habitats and disrupt fishing ecosystems.

But Poupore says the data does not back that up.

“I think it’s asinine. It serves no purpose,” he said. “This should be data driven and it’s not. There are no government studies; there is no demonstration of a need. It’s just people don’t like these birds and they want to blast them out of the sky.”

Arriving close to the island, orange clothing can bee seen about 25 feet up a dead tree. A sign on the edge of the water says, “Don’t shoot! Protect the Big Rideau Lake cormorant colony.”

Poupore calls out to the man in the tree and he answers back, stating his name is Buzz Boles.

Buzz Boles

“I want to preserve this colony. I’m here for several reasons. One is to observe the hunt and see how the birds react to hunters shooting at them,” Boles said.

“The other thing is this colony is very historic, it’s very small, and two hunters in a day could almost wipe it out entirely. So I think this is a valuable asset to the environment of Big Rideau Lake and it needs to be preserved.”

A retired wildlife biologist, Boles notes that there would normally be around 40 birds on the island, but that number is higher as more gather to prepare to migrate south.

Boles has been monitoring the colony for the past five years and has been in correspondence with the ministry of natural resources.

“They have said that I can be on this island, studying the birds anytime except during nesting season, and I’ve been doing that. I’m here quite legally. I have every right to sit in this tree and watch the sun come up, as is anybody else,” Boles said.

Boles said wildlife management is not being followed correctly, with no objectives like the amount of birds that need to be eradicated, and what the exact purpose is. He considers the hunting nothing more than an open slaughter.

“That’s unrecorded and gives the ministry no data that is useable. What are the objectives of this?” Boles asked. “This is a province wide free-for-all of just shoot the birds. This is not wildlife management.”

When Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski announced the hunting season back in July, he said the cormorant population was healthy and sustainable, but the government heard concerns about the birds causing damage in some communities.

“He should be ashamed, instituting a hunt like this,” Boles said, when asked if he could say something to Minister Yakabuski.

“Science does not back him up and wildlife management does not back him up. This is nothing more than a slaughter. If there is a need to reduce cormorant numbers, there are wildlife management tools to do that in a proper fashion.”

Boles has been a hunter and angler all his life and said he has seen the impacts that wildlife can have on the environment.

“All they’re doing here is eco-engineering the nearest rock big enough for them. They’re eco-engineering it, not consciously, but subconsciously, that’s the way nature works,” Boles said.

On another island, just south of Boles’ lookout, Pat Fogarty is also set up watching the birds.

“I welcome all birds and I think the cormorants are part of this natural environment and ecosystem and I think they should be left alone,” Fogarty said.

“Basically, I think they should not be hunted. They (the hunters) are not taking these animals for food. They’re not really food worthy. I know it’s just about killing the animals and I really don’t agree with that.”

As Fogarty finishes talking, gunshots can be heard back by Boles.

Poupore heads over to an island where cormorants were perched on a tree. A hunter has successfully shot one and is pulling it from the water.

When Poupore pulls close, the hunters accuse him of interfering with the hunt.

“You are infracting on the fish and wildlife game law and that’s why I’m taking pictures,” said the man, who identified himself as Brian Preston from nearby Portland.

Brian Preston

Preston also said they were reporting Boles to the ministry for interference.

“He is sitting in a tree clearly interfering with the hunt under the fish and wildlife regulations. We are reporting him to MNR now.” Preston said, as the boat left the area.

For Poupore, he now hopes the temperatures will drop quickly so the birds will head south.

“They are gathering here to fly south, to migrate, and the sooner they do that the safer they’ll be,” Poupore said.

  • Big Rideau Lake Cormorant colonyCormorants in a tree on an island on Big Rideau Lake. (Nate Vandermeer / CTV News Ottawa)

  • Big Rideau Lake Cormorant ColonyA sign on an island on Big Rideau Lake urging hunters not to shoot the local cormorants. (Nate Vandermeer / CTV News Ottawa)

Province’s ‘baffling’ cormorant cull is ‘going to be a disaster’

Hunt that begins today will allow hunters to kill 15 birds daily; ‘They might as well as be shooting loons and great blue herons … it’s mind boggling, says naturalist

Andrew Philips15 minutes ago

A cormorant and seagull enjoy a quiet moment on Georgian Bay. Andrew Philips/MidlandToday

Hunt that begins today will allow hunters to kill 15 birds daily; ‘They might as well as be shooting loons and great blue herons … it’s mind boggling, says naturalist

While the province says it’s a necessary step, its widespread double-crested cormorant cull that begins today is drawing some pointed criticism.

“It’s going to be a disaster for people with minimal impact on the cormorants,” naturalist David Hawke, an OrilliaMatters columnist, predicted. “It’s akin to shooting ring-billed gulls.”

That Progressive Conservative government’s “fall harvest for double-creasted cormorants introduced to protect local ecosystems” was quietly introduced in late July just prior to a holiday weekend.

Hawke said that while some find cormorants to be a nuisance since they kill vegetation where they nest, they are a native species and actually feed on an invasive fish species: round gobies.

“They might as well as be shooting loons and great blue herons,” he said. “This whole thing is baffling and it’s mind boggling that this is being done as a hunt. Because to me a hunt is for food. You can’t eat them because of their hundred percent fish diet. They’re not edible.”

But Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop said the government announced the hunt that lasts until December 31 and allows hunters to kill 15 birds daily as a means to to combat a growing problem.

“I’ve heard concerns from property owners, hunters and anglers about the kind of damage cormorants have caused in Simcoe North, and across Ontario, who have witnessed firsthand the issues that cormorants have caused,” Dunlop said.

“The fall hunting season was introduced to protect our local ecosystem and will help communities manage the destruction caused by the cormorant populations where they have negatively impacted natural habitat and other water bird species.”

But Bob Codd, who’s a member of the Midland-Penetanguishene Field Naturalists, said there doesn’t seem to be any real science behind the hunt.

“Any scientific literature would suggest that there’s no basis for it,” said Codd, who runs the local group’s website.

“I think Mr. Ford is just doing it to appease what he sees as his base. I guess there’s a small clamour to do something about them, but a provincewide cull in my opinion isn’t the answer. This doesn’t really make any sense. You can’t eat them. Even a jurisdiction like the United States rejected a cull.”

While no one seems to have firm numbers on how many hunters will be participating, the birds’ numbers could be drastically different by next year should participation be high.

“I don’t know how many people are going to participate in it, but the potential is vast,” Codd said. “If everybody who could, did, it would be really devastating.”

The Animal Alliance of Canada said that the bird could be brought to near extinction in just one season since there are an estimated 143,000 adult, breeding cormorants in the province since hunters hold small game permits (about 197,000) can legally kill up to 15 cormorants a day during a hunt that lasts 111 days.

But Lauren Tonelli, resources management specialist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, doesn’t think member participation will be that high in the hunt except, perhaps, in smaller lake areas where cormorants outnumber other birds and have damaged habitat.

.”I really feel like it’ll mostly be people who have been seen those types of issues for the past decade,” she said, adding they’re not expecting to see each hunter take 15 birds a day so fears of the bird being hunted into near extinction are without merit.

“I mean, you could apply that to anything. If every angler in Ontario went out and took their limit of fish everyday that they could, you probably would have an issue as well. But obviously that doesn’t happen.”

And while there were no big fireworks displays for either Victoria or Canada Day this year due to the pandemic, the sounds of shotgun blasts bursting through the air could take away some of the calm and tranquility Ontario’s lakes normally offer in the fall.

Hawke wonders whether that loss of tranquility and leaving either dead or dying cormorants to rot on islands where they’ve been shot or floating over to nearby shorelines could create hostility and lead to conflicts between hunters and those enjoying area lakes like boaters, campers and cottagers.

“You’re going to see a shoreline of dead birds,” Hawke said, noting he can see a major social disconnect happening between the varying groups. “I can see a huge social clash happening. We now have more cottages, more people than ever before.

“These guys will go out, blast away and knock a bunch of cormorants out of the sky. They can’t take them home because they’re not worth eating. What do you do with the carcass? I think we’re going to see a shoreline of dead cormorant carcasses rotting.”

Hawke said he can’t understand the logic behind the government’s decision to try to decimate the waterbird’s provincial population through a legal hunt since the province once had an extended Canada Goose hunt, but that had seemingly no effect on that species’ population.

“Why don’t they have a concerted effort to oil the (cormorant’s) eggs so they don’t hatch and the population would slowly decrease,” he said, adding that move would be better for everyone and would address concerns related to cormorants such as damaging trees for nesting and roosting, eating a small percentage of so-called ‘sport fish’ and leaving behind guano-topped islands.

As well, some consider the cormorants’ revival in the Great Lakes from historic lows in the 1970s to be a success story with Hawke noting the bird suffered dramatic declinces back then due to exposure to environmental contaminants like DDT.

Tonelli, meanwhile, said her organization has been after the province for two decades to deal with the burgeoning cormorant population.

“We had a lot of members noticing that cormorant populations were increasing and their colonies were getting bigger and they’re causing more damage along the waterfront and smaller islands,” Tonelli said. “Their numbers are increasing throughout Ontario.”

Tonelli said that in 2018 when a similar initiative was being mentioned, her organization wanted the government to take “active management” of the species by having Ministry of Natural Resources and Foresty personnel conduct population control measures through smaller culls and oiling eggs where needed rather than an official hunt.

But she said she understands the reasoning behind the hunt since it will cost the government fewer resources in terms of staff time.

She added: “Obviously allowing a hunt doesn’t really cost them anything and they actually make a little bit of revenue.”

Cormorant hunt scheduled to start Tuesday despite controversy

NORTH BAY — The controversial culling of cormorants starts Tuesday,
intended to protect the fish population, the province says, but many groups

Animal protection activists argue the cull endangers the bird species, while
advocates dismiss such concerns as exaggerated.

“These are birds that have been driven close to extinction twice in the last
200 years,” said Liz White, director of the Animal Alliance of Canada and
the leader of the Animal Protection Party of Canada.

“One of those times was from persecution. So we know that these birds are
extremely vulnerable to this kind of action and what we have now in the
Province of Ontario is a province-wide killing of a bird that has made a
spectacular comeback.”

The group sent an open letter sent to John Yakabuski, minister of Natural
Resources and Forestry, asking for more scientific research to support the
hunt. The hunt currently goes one for 106 days, and allows hunters to take
15 birds per day.

Fifteen birds a day

“Fifteen birds a day is actually comparable to other migratory birds like
the dove — they’re 15 a day, as well,” said North Bay Hunters and Anglers
president Kam Wroblewski. “However those numbers are set, someone had to
take a look at the numbers and realize that we have 140,000-plus cormorants
and we don’t have 140,000-plus cormorant hunters.”

Wroblewski said he doubts the cull will be that popular with hunters.

“I think it will be opportunistic, where duck hunters or geese hunters are
out there and they see cormorants, they’ll take them, but generally I don’t
think it will be a popular hunt.”

In a statement to CTV, the MNR said Ontario is acting on concerns from
property owners, hunters and anglers and commercial fishers about the king
of damage cormorants have called in their communities.

“Cormorants prey on fish, eating a pound a day,” the statement said.
“Research shows they can impact some fish stocks. The birds can also damage
trees they nest and roost in. In large amounts, cormorant droppings, called
guano, can kill trees and other vegetation and destroy traditional nesting
habitats for some other colonial water birds.”

No scientific evidence

White disagrees, arguing there is no scientific evidence that cormorants
harm fish populations.

“In fact, if you look at the total allowable catch for Lake Erie, which is
the largest fresh water commercial fishery in the world, the number of fish
that are taken out by the commercial fishery has not gone down,” she said.
“Yet Lake Erie has very large cormorant populations on a number of islands
in the western basin.”

She said in Toronto, where there are large cormorant colonies, public
beaches are listed as “blue flag beaches,” deeming them good for swimming
and not toxic from cormorant droppings.

“We’re talking in Ontario of 140,000 birds, not very many birds,” White
said. “And if you look at the wider aspect, in all of the islands of the
30,000 islands that are in the Great Lakes Basin, cormorants occupy just
under three per cent of those islands.”

The Animal Association of Canada is asking people to keep an eye out for
injured birds or bird remains so they can document how the season is going.

“We don’t know how many birds are going to be killed,” White said. “We don’t
know what effect that’s going to have on the population. There’s absolutely
no measurement and it really is, as denied by the Ford Government, an
extermination program.”

Despite the controversy, Wroblewski said hunters are just trying to do
what’s best.

“I think people just need to recognize that as a whole and as a collective,
hunters are here to basically enjoy the woods, but we’re not looking to cull
anything to zero,” he said. “We’re just basically looking to reset the
balance of things and making sure that other species, for example the blue
heron – which is having a difficult time thriving because of the cormorants
– they have a chance … We’re looking at levelling the playing field for
every species out there, and all the fish as well.”

The Absurd Pretense to Justify Hunt For Cormorants

Originally, the Government of Ontario proposed what I characterized as the single worst wildlife management decision of the modern era: naming the double-crested cormorant a “game” bird, and then have a province-wide open season on it from March 15 (before most cormorants, a migratory species, have arrived back in Ontario) to December 31 (long after they have left) with a daily bag limit of 50 birds. And, unheard of for any “game” species, anywhere, there would be no requirement that killed birds must be use for food. Cormorants, obligate fish-eaters, are, to most palates, inedible. Scientists, including the government’s own and those of the federal Canadian Wildlife Service, as well as independent ornithologists and cormorant researchers, plus hunters for whom the deliberate wastage of game is unimaginable, all objected.

There was a small victory in that this extermination program was dialed back a bit. The birds will not legally be slaughtered during the nesting season, leaving helpless young to die horribly, as originally planned. The idea now is to have an open season from September 15th to December 31st. But, hunters are still allowed to waste the “game” by delivering it to an approved waste disposal site, dumping it by following disposal of deadstock regulations under the Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001, or burying the birds they kill on their own land or private land they occupy, with the owner’s consent. Of course, there is no means of enforcing any of this. For details, click here.

Ontario has an astounding 125,000 lakes. The Ontario government claims there are 143,000 cormorants in the province. That works out to slightly more than 1.7 cormorants per lake! And, that is deemed too many? Of course they aren’t evenly distributed, which is part of the problem; cormorants are absent from most waters, wetlands, and islands, but in the relatively very few places where they are able nest, they are noticed. Furthermore, Ontario has approximately 197,000 holders of the small game permit required for the proposed killing of cormorants. If only 0.5% of hunters were to reach their daily limit for just 10 days of the three and a half month season, the “take” would exceed the total number of breeding cormorants in Ontario. The government, in contrast to how “game” is supposed to be managed, did not even try to estimate a “sustainable” level of cormorant killing. There is no mechanism to determine how many are being killed to prevent over-hunting and subsequent extirpation or extinction of species.

This policy violates two of the seven basic principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which states that wildlife should only be killed for a legitimate, non-frivolous purpose (always open to interpretation, of course) and, of great relevance, that scientific management is the proper means for wildlife conservation.

Neither science, conservation, compassion, nor logic have been considered – the price of which is the lives of innocent birds.

Ontario’s newly announced fall hunt ‘a hate-on for cormorants’

‘Cormorants have been vilified for centuries,’ writes York U professor Gail Fraser


Professor Gail Fraser is in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York University. She studies the biology and management of colonial nesting waterbirds. Visit – Gail Fraser photo

Cormorant colony

A cormorant colony in Tommy Thompson Park. – Gail Fraser/photo

Cormorant chick

A cormorant chick begging to a parent. – G.S. Fraser photo

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For the last 14 years, I’ve studied double-crested cormorants at Tommy Thompson Park on the east side of Toronto’s harbour. Every April, I put on my coveralls and venture forth to follow a sample of nests, recording when nesting began and whether birds were successful at raising young. My goal is to track how the birds are doing and hopefully detect significant changes when they occur.

This year, I chose to forgo my research because of the pandemic. Torontonians, indeed, the entire world, are still modifying their actions based on what we learn about COVID-19. Information brought to us by science.

Ecology, the study of natural systems, is also based on science. It addresses wide ranging questions, such as why some organisms are here but not there, what factors influence population growth and how predators impact prey populations. Because natural systems are dynamic and, locally, have hundreds of interacting species, they are complex and ever changing, just like the situation with COVID-19.

The scientists at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources know about this complexity. They publish highly regarded, peer-reviewed papers on all kinds of topics, including cormorant-fisheries interactions. Research that required detailed, painstaking approaches to understand complex aquatic ecosystems like Lake Ontario.

Imagine my surprise when Minister John Yakabuski announced a fall cormorant hunt with no reference to OMNR research or other relevant studies. Instead, all that can be found are vague statements about how this hunt would somehow help Ontario fish populations and habitat.

But consider the numbers: If a thousand small game hunters achieved the daily bag limit of 15 birds per day for 10 days, this would eliminate the entire breeding population of cormorants in Ontario. Yet, we’re offered no rationale for that number, no prediction of the results or summary of the objectives. A key component of sustainable management of natural resources is to identify a target: what is the desired number of cormorants in Ontario? Zero?

On one hand, the Ford Government has used science to modify society’s actions based on the best available research on COVID-19. On the other, it has ignored ecological science to “manage” cormorants. Instead, it is appeasing some members of the public because some people don’t like cormorants. They don’t like their smell or that they kill trees. They don’t like that they eat fish. These complaints are not new; cormorants have been vilified for centuries. A European settler in 1634 objected that cormorants “destroy abundance of small fish.”

While modern scientific studies show the relationships between cormorants and fish populations is complex and site specific, Yakabuski chose to adopt 17th-century thinking for cormorant management. But let’s just call this hunt for what it is: A hate-on for cormorants. There is nothing scientific about it.

Toronto’s cormorant colony is the largest in North America. It should be celebrated as a conservation success story, but now its very existence is in jeopardy. In 2021, I’ll continue my research on cormorants, but I’m filled with trepidation, instead of joyful anticipation.

Professor Gail Fraser is in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York University. She studies the biology and management of colonial nesting waterbirds. Visit

Conservation groups raise concerns about Ontario hunt of cormorants this fall

Groups say justification for culling birds in province not based on science

A cormorant stands on a tire floating in Lake Ontario in the waters off Toronto’s Tommy Thompson Park. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Conservation groups say they are concerned about an Ontario government decision to allow a hunt of double-crested cormorants across the province this fall.

The Ontario ministry of natural resources and forestry announced the hunt on Friday, calling it a “fall harvest,” and said it will allow a hunter with an outdoors card and small game licence to kill up to 15 birds a day from Sept. 15 to Dec. 31. Hunters will be allowed to shoot the birds from stationary motorboats.

According to the ministry, the rationale for the killing of the birds is that they reduce fish stocks and their droppings damage natural habitat. It says they hurt the livelihoods of commercial fishermen and property owners, hunters and anglers have all complained.

“The harvest will help address concerns about impacts to local ecosystems by cormorants, a bird that preys on fish, eating a pound a day, and that can damage trees in which they nest and roost,” the ministry said in a news release on Friday.

Liz White, a director of the non-profit Animal Alliance of Canada and leader of the federally registered Animal Protection Party of Canada, said the alliance and party are opposed to the hunt.

White said the hunt is unethical because the birds are not eaten, cruel because many birds will be wounded and will suffer, and scientifically unsound because the birds do not deplete commercial fish stocks.

“The problem is that the issues that they talk about as justification for the hunt are simply not held up in science,” White said.

White said cormorants are found where fish are plentiful.

“What we find out is that where there are a lot of birds, like a lot of cormorants, and other colonial nesting birds, the reason that they are there in great quantities is there is also a very healthy fish population,” she said.

While cormorants do destroy foliage, with their acidic droppings, known as guano, killing the leaves of trees and changing the composition of vegetation, she said: “The question is, what difference does that make?”

White said the hunt, while “pared down” from a 2018 government plan, could devastate a recovered native wildlife species that has been driven to near extinction twice in the past 200 years.

“We know that is a perilous activity and we believe it is put forward because people don’t like the birds,” White said.

A double-crested cormorant surfaces after catching dinner. The Ontario ministry of natural resources and forestry announced a ‘fall harvest’ of cormorants this year. A hunter with a small game licence will be allowed to kill up to 15 birds a day from Sept. 15 to Dec. 31. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

According to the ministry, hunters will have to have “adequate means” to retrieve any bird that is shot, including those injured, and White says it will be impossible for hunters to retrieve birds with damaged beaks and wings because of where they live. They nest on the ground or in trees on islands and peninsulas.

White said if every hunter who has a licence is allowed to take 15 birds a day and if only 20,000 do so, the population of cormorants could be wiped out. There are 197,000 holders of small game licences in Ontario.

As well, she said the ministry will not be able to enforce its own rules to control the hunt.

“It begs the question, who hold the controls?” she said.

The ministry said it and its partner agencies surveyed cormorant colonies across the Great Lakes and certain inland lakes in Ontario last year. Based on nest counts, it estimates there are a minimum of 143,000 breeding cormorants in 344 colonies.

“Combined with historical data, trends suggest that cormorant populations are increasing in Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and Lake Superior and are stable on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Huron,” it said in the news release.

A few trees in Tommy Thompson Park still have cormorant nests in them. This one is slowly being destroyed by the bird’s feces and it’s now white and brittle without any bark left. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC)

Steven Price, president of Birds Canada, a non-profit charitable organization that calls itself “Canada’s voice for birds,” agreed with White that the hunt raises questions and concerns.

Price said the hunt is more of a cull. What the province initially planned two years ago was more widespread, of longer duration and during breeding season, he said.

“While I don’t like it in particular, it’s better than it was,” Price said. “It’s at least outside of the breeding season, which makes it consistent with all other hunts, you don’t normally hunt during breeding season of an animal, and it will be outside of main cottage country time and boating.”

But Price said he is concerned because the province has not specified its “conservation objective,” the size of what would be considered a reasonable cormorant population.

“The question is, if it were a cull, then what is the population size that you’re trying to reduce it to and how will you hire experts in order for that to happen? And that’s not the case here.”

Cormorants are encouraged to nest on the ground in Tommy Thompson Park. This area used to be filled with trees before they were destroyed by the birds’ feces. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC )

The cormorant came close to being endangered over 100 years ago, when birds of all kinds were shot without any control, he said.

“Cormorants are a success story in the 100 years since then with the elimination of that kind of illegal hunting and the decline in pesticide use. The birds have come back. They have come back in large numbers. Not everyone is happy seeing these large black birds over Lake Ontario, over Lake Erie and cottage country. I happen to enjoy them. Others don’t,” he said.

Price agreed that some people just don’t like the bird.

Ministry ‘taking steps’ to help hunters, anglers, fishers

The ministry, for its part, has not yet responded to an email for comment, but John Yakabuski, natural resources and forestry minister, said in the release: “We’ve heard concerns from property owners, hunters and anglers, and commercial fishers about the kind of damage cormorants have caused in their communities, so we’re taking steps to help them deal with any local issues.”

Yakabuski added: “In large amounts, cormorant droppings can kill trees and other vegetation and destroy traditional nesting habitats for some other colonial water birds, so it’s critical that we take action to strike a healthy balance in local ecosystems.”

Based on nest counts, the provincial government estimates there are a minimum of 143,000 breeding cormorants in 344 colonies in Ontario. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Lauren Tonelli, resource management specialist of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, said the group was pleased to hear the news of the hunt. The federation has 100,000 members, subscribers and supporters.

“We’ve been asking the government to do something about overabundant cormorants for almost two decades now,” Tonelli said on Sunday. “We’re very pleased to see that they acknowledged that overabundant cormorants is an issue and they are finally taking some initial steps in dealing with them.”

But she said the scale of the hunt is not extensive, despite what animal protection groups say.

“It’s a pretty minor hunt, to be honest. The season lines up with pretty much every other waterfowl species in Ontario,” she said. “We really don’t think that this hunt will have a huge impact on the population. We really see this as a starting point and a way to recognize that something needs to be done and it gives individuals a means to begin to reduce their own local concerns.”

Toronto’s Tommy Thompson Park is said to have one of the largest populations of cormorants in North America.