Migratory Bird Program
Conserving the Nature of America

CORMORANT MANAGEMENT IN THE NORTHEAST

WORKSHOP REPORT

January 13-15, 1998

Glens Falls, New York

 

Background

Double-crested cormorant populations in Lake Ontario (NY, Ontario), Oneida Lake (NY), and Lake Champlain (NY, VT) have increased amidst calls for action, including population control, by some anglers, local government officials, politicians, and landowners. Although existing evidence indicates cormorants may have only a small, if not negligible, impact on recreational fishing success, their growing population has been correlated to a changing eastern Lake Ontario sportfishing industry. Increasing numbers of cormorants in the Lake Champlain basin has led to negative impacts on island vegetation and other birds at long-established colonial nesting bird sites.

This regional workshop was designed to bring together fish and wildlife managers and experts working on cormorants to discuss issues brought about by increased political and public calls for fish and wildlife agencies to do something about the increasing population of cormorants. Hosted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the workshop was sponsored by the Northeast Wildlife Administrators Association in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Wildlife Services). Ron Regan, Director of Wildlife for Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, and Gary Parsons, Chief of the Bureau of Wildlife for New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), chaired the meeting. Bob Inslerman, Region 5 Wildlife Manager for NYSDEC, made arrangements for food, lodging and logistical support.

Workshop Objectives

  • Identify and clarify the issues surrounding double-crested cormorants in the Northeast.
  • Recommend strategies to address those issues.

Participants

Forty-four individuals registered for the workshop, representing seven states, three federal agencies, the Province of Ontario, Canada, as well as academic specialists from Cornell University and the University of Vermont. A list of participants is attached (Appendix A).

Meeting Format

The day and a half workshop included a general session with presentations on:

  • Population status of double-crested cormorants in the United States and Canada;
  • Regional perspectives from the Southeast, Midwest, Canada, and Northeast;
  • Impacts of the species on sportfish; and
  • Methods and techniques for control.

Three working groups, Biota/Natural Communities, Fisheries, and Human Dimensions were convened to address the degree and scope of concern; administrative, political, ecological, legal and fiscal considerations; human dimensions issues; research and information needs; communication and education needs; and recommended short and long-term program strategies. Each working group had a chair, facilitator, and recorder, and consisted of participants representing various perspectives of cormorant management. Because of the limited amount of time available for discussion, key elements were identified for each topic without benefit of in-depth discussion.

On the last morning, each group presented its findings and recommendations, discussed common themes and potential conflicts, and voted to provide a sense of the most important recommendations made. The meeting agenda, including presenters, is found in Appendix B.

Recommended Strategies

Some of the recommended strategies reflect immediate tasks, whereas others will be long-term or on-going. Due to time constraints, no attempt was made to clarify or consolidate the strategies recommended by the three groups. Thus, it was somewhat difficult to prioritize the recommendations. Those considered to be most important are listed below; the entire list is found in Appendix C. Working group reports for fisheries, biota/natural communities, and human dimensions are found in Appendices D, E and F.

Highest Priority

  • Define criteria to identify acceptable impacts of cormorants on fish stocks of concern (both biological and social components).
  • Manage cormorant populations on a flyway basis: 1) establish a Cormorant Flyway Technical Committee, and 2) establish regional population objectives for cormorants.
  • Conduct studies that will provide additional demographic information to support population modeling. (Information lacking on reproductive success on northern breeding areas and survival in southern wintering areas).

High Priority

  • Northeast Fish and Wildlife Administrators should appoint a team to develop a communications plan.
  • Regional cormorant management recommendations should include a strong communications component.
  • Develop plans to protect known colonies of colonial nesting birds from cormorant invasion. Have involved agencies identify and describe their policies and functions concerning cormorants.
  • Develop, with stakeholders and target audiences, a set of protocols and information needs before taking management actions.
  • Inventory islands and assess habitat suitability in Northeast (to reflect on potential for expansion of nesting colonies).
  • Implementation of control should only be exercised where there is a known unacceptable impact based on scientific data and monitored to evaluate effectiveness.

Common Themes

Participants made the following observations about similarities among the working groups= discussions and recommendations:

  • There are biological and social data gaps in what we know about cormorants and the way people feel about them.
  • This issue has a biological complexity and an organizational complexity. Within the same agency, there may be differing policies and attitudes about cormorants that make it difficult to develop coordinated, effective communications.
  • Better, more effective two-way communications between agencies and stakeholders are needed.
  • Agencies are feeling a sense of urgency to come to grips with the issues surrounding cormorants and to do something about them. Participants recognized the need for proactive strategies now, and that their agencies have expectations that this Cormorant Workshop will help them move ahead.
  • While participants had different experiences and opinions, they were open-minded and the group product provides a balanced view.
  • Cormorants are part of the broad-scale ecosystem, but to some, especially local groups and politicians, the problem is a local issue only.
  • This is an evolving issue, and the problems, public involvement needs and management decisions will probably not be static.

 

Potential Conflicts

Balance between the need for immediate management actions in local areas and the desire to manage cormorants on a flyway basis. There seemed to be general agreement that a flyway management approach is what should be aimed for, but all agreed that more information and data is needed before this can be accomplished. At the same time, specific sites have problems that need to be addressed immediately. The question is how do you meet short-term needs while working on long-term solutions?

Biological significance does not equate with social significance (manager-defined problems vs. stakeholder-defined problems). Managers are prone to applying their own value systems to data, but do not acknowledge that they are doing the exact same thing that they claim the stakeholders are doing. There is a need to find a way to get to a reasonable, rational decision.

Conclusion

The results and recommendations of the workshop will be presented to the Northeast Administrators at the Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference in Harrisburg, PA in May 1998 by Gary Parsons and Ron Regan. This workshop provided an initial forum for managers and experts to explore the known biological, social and political status of the double-crested cormorant in the Northeast. The group was also able to provide recommendations for additional consideration by fish and wildlife agency administrators.

Appendices

Appendix A - List of Participants

Appendix B - Cormorant Workshop Agenda

Appendix C - Priority List of Recommended Strategies

Appendix D - Fisheries Group Report

Appendix E - Biota/Natural Communities Group Report

Appendix F - Human Dimensions Group Report

 

Gary Parsons, New York
Ron Regan, Vermont
Northeast Wildlife Administrators Association

April, 1998


Posted: September 25, 1998

Disclaimer: This document is posted as a public service to the agencies, organizations, and individuals interested in seeking solutions to the growing controversy between cormorants and human interests. The ideas expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Office of Migratory Bird Management.

 

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