CORMORANT MANAGEMENT IN THE NORTHEAST
January 13-15, 1998
Glens Falls, New York
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.
- Identify and clarify the issues surrounding double-crested cormorants
in the Northeast.
- Recommend strategies to address those issues.
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
The day and a half workshop included a general session with
- Population status of double-crested cormorants in the United States
- Regional perspectives from the Southeast, Midwest, Canada, and
- 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
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
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.
- 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
- Northeast Fish and Wildlife Administrators should appoint a team to
develop a communications plan.
- Regional cormorant management recommendations should include a strong
- 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
Participants made the following observations about similarities among
the working groups= discussions
- 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
- This is an evolving issue, and the problems, public involvement needs
and management decisions will probably not be static.
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.
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.
Appendix A - List of Participants
Appendix B - Cormorant Workshop Agenda
Appendix C - Priority List of Recommended
Appendix D - Fisheries Group Report
Appendix E - Biota/Natural Communities Group
Appendix F - Human Dimensions Group Report
Gary Parsons, New York
Ron Regan, Vermont
Northeast Wildlife Administrators Association
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
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