Letters: A rebuttal to the December 7 letter staunchly opposing the government’s cormorant hunting proposal

Dear Editor:

This letter is in response to Barry Kent MacKay’s Letter to the Editor on December 7 in which he staunchly opposes the government’s cormorant hunting proposal (“Apex predator cormorants play an important role in ecology”).

I serve with Barry on the provincial Human-Wildlife Conflict Advisory Group. He’s an effective spokesperson for animal welfare and a talented wildlife artist. We agree on many things, including the need to properly fund conservation and to collect outstanding fines for violations under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. I respect his conviction, but his general contempt for humankind is on full display here.

Don’t be fooled—MacKay isn’t just opposed to a cormorant hunt, he actively opposes any cormorant control efforts including those conducted by Parks Canada to save the ecologically sensitive habitats of Middle Island. From what I can tell, he’s opposed to hunting of any kind, for any reason. 

Fishing too, which he’s referred to in his blog as a “cruel sport.”

MacKay also opposes the provincial raccoon rabies control program, mainly because raccoons and skunks are depopulated in the vicinity of a positive case. He’s claimed that rabies outbreaks are just a creative way for the MNRF to ensure the continued flow of funding to its programs (in a past blog post, he stated “Be prepared for another ‘outbreak’ of raccoon strain rabies as we approach budget time in Ontario”). Anyone familiar with the horrifying progression of rabies culminating in death in both humans and animals should be appalled by this position.

On the topic of cormorants, he is selective in his criticism. Much of his rhetoric is lobbed at us, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, because we’ve been seeking cormorant control measures for decades (although not necessarily a hunt or for the reasons that he claims). But Anishinabek Grand Council Chief Glen Hare has also been calling for cormorant control efforts, as has the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Even some of the American wildlife agencies in the Great Lakes States have voiced their disappointment in Ontario’s lack of a coordinated cormorant management plan. MacKay’s suggestion? Simply ignore all of these voices as uninformed. 

His opinion piece focuses on fisheries impacts and completely ignores the broader ecological impacts that can occur when too many cormorants nest in one area. The destruction of terrestrial habitats, threats to species at risk, accumulation of feces, impacts on aquaculture and fish stocking, a reduction of property values—none of these impacts are mentioned. 

He states that “we wiped them out before, nearly, and now we’re about to do it again”.  No one is interested in wiping out cormorants, nor could we. The reality is that a huge number of Ontario’s cormorants live in provincial and national parks and along municipal waterfronts—areas where the discharge of firearms is prohibited. The proposed cormorant hunt will not eliminate cormorants from Ontario, meaning that the double-crested cormorant’s existence is not in jeopardy. 

Has our knowledge evolved about cormorants and their impacts? Absolutely. Just like cormorants won’t eat every last fish, hunters won’t kill every last cormorant. The most likely scenario is that cormorants will be shot by hunters during waterfowl season, rather than the tactical, wholesale slaughter of nesting birds that opponents like to portray. 

Hunters don’t want to kill for the sake of killing cormorants. But we have a proven track record as willing participants in achieving broader management goals, such as mitigating the negative impacts of double-crested cormorants. Is it so hard to believe that a group of people whose preferred activities centre on time spent in nature, might actually want to conserve that nature? Most supporters are simply seeking practical tools to deal with a real-life problem. In our modern world, intervention is sometimes necessary. 

Mark Ryckman

Manager of Policy

Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters