Cormorants and the culture that wants them dead

When should nature be left to take its course?

That’s a question that may surface with today’s announcement that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is going to “control” cormorants on Lake Vermilion.

The cormorants aren’t an endangered species. But they’re messing up the fish population of walleye and yellow perch by… fishing for them.

Fewer perch are being caught in survey nets, the DNR says, so the cormorants must go.

How? It’s in today’s press release:

The proposed control will consist of culling 10 percent of the adult birds present and oiling the eggs of all nesting pairs. Oiling prevents the eggs from hatching. Together, this approach controls existing numbers of birds, eliminates new production and reduces fish consumption that would have occurred from feeding and raising young birds. This initial control strategy will be monitored for effectiveness by measuring perch abundance in annual netting surveys and counting the number of nesting pairs of cormorants each year.

A DNR official says the action is necessary to keep future walleye populations up.

A couple of years ago, two Minnesota congressmen proposed legislation to further control cormorants.

That brought a response from Linda Wires, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Dept. Of Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Biology, who says the cormorant has a “PR problem,” and is the victim of “a long culture of hatred.”

But maybe fishermen could figure out a way to get the birds on their side, like some in China have.

Cormorants are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Like bald eagles, cormorants were once in danger because of pesticide use. And, like bald eagles, their numbers are rising because the pesticides were banned.

But let this be a lesson to you, bald eagles: Lay off the walleye and yellow perch.