For more than a decade, double crested cormorants could be killed in 24 states in the eastern U.S. In the Great Lakes, it was mainly done to protect sport fish like perch and bass.
But last spring a federal judge stopped the program, saying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wasn’t doing the research on cormorants necessary to justify killing them.
Sport fishing groups hoped that research would have been done by now and the program could resume.
Jim Johnson is a fisheries biologist involved with a citizen’s group for Lake Huron. He says he can’t even find anyone at Fish and Wildlife working on the issue.
“Maybe they have assigned somebody but we can’t find anybody to say ‘Oh yeah I’m working on it,’” says Johnson.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put out a fact sheet late last year that says there is a team in place working on cormorant research.
But an earlier version of the document said the issue was not a priority.
The agency did not provide a recorded interview for this story.
Cormorants have been killed to protect fish in a number of places in the upper Great Lakes, including the Les Cheneaux Islands, Beaver Island, and Ludington.
People in the Les Cheneaux Islands say the water birds devastated the tourism economy there by eating all the perch.
But James Ludwig says those claims are exaggerated. He’s an ornithologist and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service that stopped the use of lethal control. He says the number of cormorants in the Great Lakes is down sharply.
Ludwig says that’s in part because there are fewer fish for the birds to eat.
“I think it may be a situation where you could relax all pressure on cormorants and they won’t respond very much,” he says.
For now, there will not be any human pressure on the cormorant population.
Spring is when most of the lethal control happens in the Great Lakes and no permits will be issued this year. And according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, it might be years before that changes.