Letter regarding cormorant control in the Great Lakes

May 4, 2017

Dear Member of the Michigan Congressional Delegation:

We are writing to express the concern of the Great Lakes Council of Fly Fishers
International (formerly the International Federation of Fly Fishers) regarding the
interruption of double-crested cormorant control in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes
Council represents the interests of fly fishing anglers in Michigan, Indiana and
Northwest Ohio. We partner with the Michigan DNR through the Lake Michigan Citizens
Advisory Council and other conservation partnerships. The Advisory Council provides
recommendations to the MDNR regarding fishery goals, objectives and management
plans. It is in the spirit of that charge that we convey our concerns about the loss of
effective cormorant control in the Great Lakes region.

Cormorants are a federally-protected fish eating bird. From the early 1970s to 2000
cormorant numbers increased from near zero to 115,000 birds in Michigan waters. The
Great Lakes regional population was estimated to be 326,000 birds in 2009. The vast
majority of these cormorants reside in Lakes Michigan and Huron. Their diets consist
mostly of alewives and round gobies (forage fish) but also significant numbers of
stocked trout, salmon, and highly valued smallmouth bass, and yellow perch. Although
fisheries of 24 states are affected by cormorant depredations, Michigan hosts about
55% of the interior population’s breeding pairs and can be considered “ground zero” for
negative impacts from cormorants.

For a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with invasive species, Lakes Huron and
Michigan have seen their prey fish populations plummet with drastic consequences to
their incredibly important trout, salmon and perch fisheries. Research has firmly
established the linkage between cormorant predation on fish populations and the
decline in their fisheries. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognized this in
2003 and established a Public Resource Depredation Order (PRDO) that provided
cormorant control options to the states and the US Department of Agriculture.
Implemented over the last 12 years, these measures have been highly successful in
reducing cormorant abundance to acceptable numbers and have restored our fisheries.

On May 25, 2016, a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the US
Fish and Wildlife Service had done an inadequate environmental review of ongoing
cormorant control efforts, effectively stopping this program that is essential to both the
health of Great Lakes fisheries and the aquaculture industry in 24 Eastern and
Midwestern states. The USFWS says it will be proceeding slowly (if at all) on a new
Environmental Assessment and has no plans to re-establish depredation orders                                                              for control of cormorants for fisheries benefits. This means years of progress in cormorant
population management near important fisheries will be lost.

Michigan cannot afford to see more of its diminishing Great Lakes perch and forage fish
supplies become prey of rising cormorant numbers. Furthermore, stocking of trout and
salmon can become impractical when cormorant numbers at the stocking sites become
excessive. Thus, the USFWS decision not to immediately revise the environmental
assessment and re-establish depredation orders brings cormorant management to a
standstill and threatens many important Great Lakes fish populations and recreational/
commercial fisheries.

Management of very important fisheries in the Great Lakes has come to depend on
cormorant control and we object to the abandonment of the Great Lakes states
(Michigan in particular) by the USFWS decision that this is not a priority for them.
We ask that Congress intervene by directing the US Fish and Wildlife Service to
expedite the necessary environmental reviews to fully restore depredation permits and/
or a Public Resource Depredation Order for cormorant control for fisheries benefits. If
necessary, we suggest including this directive in the current budget bill tying their
funding to this call for action.

Thank you very much. We are placing our faith in you to bring this federal agency back
to an important issue and to once again partner with the public and the states to ensure
healthy fishery resources in the Great Lakes.


Dennis O’Brien President,   Dave Peterson Vice President for Conservation

cc: James Dexter, Chief of Fisheries Division, MDNR Frank Krist


Permanent link to this article: https://www.ffiglc.org/2017/05/28/letter-regarding-cormorant-control-in-the-great-lakes/