First step completed on a path to cormorant season

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PETERBOROUGH – The first step in what appears could be a long process to establish a hunting season for double-crested cormorants in Ontario has been taken. 

The proposal to establish a hunting season for double-crested cormorants in Ontario through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) was updated on the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) on November 7, 2019. “This notice was updated on November 7, 2019 to inform the public that proposed amendments to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997 received First Reading on November 6, 2019 in the Ontario Legislature, and to provide a link to the proposed legislation. If the proposed legislative amendments are passed by the legislature, the ministry would have to advance regulatory amendments before a double-crested cormorant hunting season could be created.”

Lauren Tonelli of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) told the Recorder, “the only thing we’ve seen the government is moving on at this time is a provision to the effect (that those who would harvest cormorants if the proposal goes through) would not have to consume them (cormorants). Theoretically, someone could (harvest) a cormorant, and it would not have to be consumed, under the proposal. But we haven’t seen anything that involves an actual hunt for cormorants being established. But this is the only thing that has changed under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, everything else in the proposal would be part of the regulations.”

It is noted on the EBR, “the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act currently prohibits anyone who kills game wildlife (including game birds), or who possesses game wildlife killed by hunting, from allowing that meat to spoil. Via this posting, the Ministry is also consulting on a proposal to amend the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to add provisions so hunters could allow cormorants to spoil. This proposal would add provisions to the Act, so that persons who lawfully hunt (or possess) cormorants could be exempt from this requirement and would be subject to conditions that require the person to retrieve and dispose of the carcass. Should this proposal proceed, it may be accompanied by regulations to implement the exemption and requirements.

To accompany the proposed hunting seasons, the Ministry will implement a cormorant monitoring program to assess population status and trends. Monitoring of cormorants will allow the ministry to assess the impacts of the hunting season and to adjust cormorant hunting regulations if necessary to address any concerns about population sustainability.”

The EBR continues, “the Ministry intends to amend the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act and supporting regulations (including Ontario Regulation 670/98 Open Seasons, Ontario Regulation 665/98 Hunting) to implement the proposal should it proceed. No additional opportunity for comments will be provided.” Comments on the proposal to establish a hunting season for double-crested cormorants in Ontario ran from November 19, 2018 to January 3, 2019.

The proposal summary reads, “we are proposing to list the double-crested cormorant as a game bird, create a hunting season in Ontario for population management and make related changes. This proposal would be implemented through a series of regulatory and legislative amendments.” 

“Double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) populations declined significantly in the Great Lakes from the 1950s to the 1970s primarily due to environmental contaminants affecting reproduction. Their numbers began to increase rapidly from the 1970s to the early 2000s, with the latest information indicating Great Lakes populations have since stabilized or declined slightly,” the EBR continued. “There continues to be concerns expressed by some groups (commercial fishing industry, property owners) and individuals that cormorants have been detrimental to fish populations, island forest habitats, other species and aesthetics.”

To respond to these concerns, the Ministry is proposing to create a hunting season for double-crested cormorants in Ontario. This new population management tool would allow persons who hold a small game licence to hunt these birds.

The following regulatory changes are being proposed to create a hunting season for double-crested cormorants: 1. List the double-crested cormorant as a “game bird.” Hunters would be required to have an outdoors card and small game licence to hunt double-crested cormorants, similar to other species of game birds; 2. Create an open hunting season for double-crested cormorants from March 15 to December 31 across the province; 3. Create an exemption allowing small game licences to be valid for double-crested cormorant hunting in central and northern Ontario from June 16 to August 31 each year; 4. Establish a bag limit of 50 cormorants/day with no possession limit; 5. Prescribed shotgun and shot size/type requirements consistent with migratory bird hunting regulations outlined in the federal Migratory Birds Regulations. This would include use of shotguns that are not large than 10 gauge, that cannot hold more than three shells and use non-toxic shot as described in the migratory bird regulations; and 6. Allow hunting from a stationary motorboat.