Stop the Fall Hunt of Double-Crested Cormorants in Ontario

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To Minister John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry

Cc: Premiere Doug Ford (doug.fordco@pc.ola.org), Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (Jonathan.Wilkinson@parl.gc.ca), Ontario’s Regional Director General’s Office (ec.grandslacs-greatlakes.ec@canada.ca)

August 6, 2020

Dear Minister Yakabuski;

On July 31, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced a 90-day fall hunt of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) where a hunter can take 15 birds per day. As concerned residents of Ontario, we oppose this hunt on the grounds that no scientific evidence was provided for its justification.

The claims made in both the original proposal (November, 2018) and the announcement of the hunt (July, 2020) are that double-crested cormorants decimate commercial fish stocks, compromise trees and vegetation to a significant degree, pollute water systems, and impact other colonial bird nesting sites. To date, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has provided no scientific research validating the accusations that double-crested cormorants have impacted the aforementioned environmental systems to a significant degree, or that the population control measures involved in this hunt will improve the health of the ecosystem.

The MNRF has not provided any scientific data required to qualify the bag limits as sustainable to the overall cormorant population. There are an estimated 197,000 registered small game hunters and only 143,000 individual cormorants in Ontario; if 0.5% of hunters reached the daily limit for ten days, the Minister’s hunt would allow the numbers killed to exceed the estimated breeding population in Ontario.

The results of this hunt could be disastrous for both the populations of cormorants in the province, but also for birds of similar appearance, like the common loon (Gavia immer), the red-throated loon (G. stellata), the pacific loon (G. pacifica), and rare cormorant species sighted in Ontario, including the great cormorant (P. carbo) and the neotropic cormorant (P. brasilianus). Furthermore, the Minister has presented no information as to what steps his enforcement officers will take to ensure that daily bag limits not exceeded and ensure the proper disposal of carcasses. To date, the Minister has not indicated how his staff will measure health of the species, as the federal government does for other migratory birds. Finally, the Minister has not indicated if his Ministry will report on the impacts of the hunt overall.  

Minister Yakabuski, we call on you and your government to provide a science-based, detailed and peer-reviewed report that analyses the announced fall cormorant hunt.

At a minimum, the report must address the following:

·       Why are cormorants designated as “game” birds when they are not as demonstrated by the amendment to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act which allows hunters to waste the birds?

·       Cormorant population (numbers of breeding birds and colonies) and harvest goals, including analyses on hunt levels of 15 birds per day, the incorporation of other ongoing management activities (e.g., cull on Middle Island Point Peele National Park) and an estimate of how the population will respond to the harvest to ensure a sustainable population.

·       Will the number of cormorants killed be collected and if so, how and when?

·       How will the incidental take of other species, like the common loon, be assessed?

·       How will the MNRF coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in managing the interior and migratory population of cormorants?

·       Why did your Ministry choose a provincial wide hunt instead of targeted localized management approaches, specifically with respect to fish populations believed to be impacted by cormorants and impacts to habitat?

Cormorants are a species native to Ontario. A significant amount of financial resources was invested in creating a healthier environment which allowed them to recover; their abundance is a conservation success story. We demand that the MNRF uphold their commitment to environmental sustainability by engaging with scientific research in the planning and implementation of a double-crested cormorant hunt. Until the scientific rigour demanded herein is demonstrated, plans for a hunt must cease.

Scientific data and support for this petition has been provided by Dr. Gail Fraser (Ecologist & Double-crested Cormorant Specialist, York University) and the Animal Alliance of Canada.