Preliminary data suggest cormorant control works
Written by Ludington Daily News   
Tuesday, 09 January 2007 08:31

Pete Butchko is a cormorant’s worst enemy. The director of USDA wildlife services in Michigan manages cormorant control measures in the state, measures which include both harassment and killing of the birds. Many anglers and biologists in the state suspect cormorants are negatively affecting fish populations throughout the Great Lakes basin.

Butchko, speaking as part of the Sea Grant Michigan Fishery Workshop Saturday, outlined the history of the double-breasted cormorant population and the progress his agency has made in controlling the bird, which he said have “expanded 1,000-fold since the 1970s.”

A project for cormorant control measures at the Ludington Pumped Storage Plant is in the works between the Michigan DNR and the USDA, but relies on funding, Butchko said.

The DNR’s Lake Michigan Management Unit Fisheries Supervisor Tom Rozich said he was “sure the (Lake Michigan) basin team will move forward” with cormorant control in Ludington this year. Rozich and Butchko’s staffers inventoried the nesting site last summer.

“More people want control than we can provide. … Ludington may be one of those places,” Butchko said.

The USDA, with the help of local partners, has several projects throughout the state that aim to keep the cormorant population in check in places where it is believed that the sport fisheries have suffered because of heavy predation by cormorants.

The measures, he said, take a combined lethal and harassing approach. One project in the Les Cheneaux Islands in northern Lake Huron has combined oiling the eggs of ground-nesting cormorants with limited shooting. At the site in 2006, Butchko said he’s seen a 56 percent reduction in the nesting population of cormorants since 2002.

In that time, evidence has shown some positive fisheries changes, although some of the predictions might be premature, he said.

“We don’t want to declare victory too soon,” Butchko said.

The Michigan legislature promised $150,000 to help cormorant control efforts statewide if the federal government matches the funds.

In all, 5,400 of the more than 67,000 cormorants were killed last year, according to Butchko’s data. That program and the non-lethal programs were made possible by $200,000 in federal funding, he said.

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