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Cormorant control volunteers needed

April 30, 2010
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - The "Prayer of Serenity", written by Reinhold Niebuhr, plays a role in the philosophy necessary to cope with natural resources management. It reads, "God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

This applies to those struggling to support and maintain the sports fisheries in and adjacent to the northern shores of Lake Michigan.

Infestation of aquatic nuisance species to the Great Lakes from ocean going vessels dumping their bilge and transfer of the same by providing other routes of access, like that of the Asian carp, are causes of negative change that can be controlled. Unfortunately, it will take total governments working with states, nations and races to impact them enough to head off increases.

Article Photos

Pictured above is a typical example of an adult cormorant. This bird weighed about eight pounds and had a 40-inch wing span. (Photo courtesy of Straits Area Sportsmen's Club)

A contributing factor to pollution and fish depredation, the double crested cormorant, is something I can help control and influence. Successful efforts in other regions have shown an immediate and long term repair to the sports fishery, but it takes a linking of all involved to make it work.

It appears some of the players involved in the central UP need to work harder in that regard and primarily with how coordination of programs should be communicated.

In noting recent estimates show there is a higher seasonal resident concentration of the cormorant in this area than any other in the nation, it is important to understand why and what changes should take place. Additionally, the area of Lake Michigan seeing the high concentrations of birds is also a stopping point for other cormorants headed further north for the nesting season.

The cormorant is a federally controlled species of wildlife. Having recovered from being nearly extinct, the bird has accelerated in proliferating to a point it is now considered a major nuisance predator against prey fish stocks. The management responsibility remains with the feds through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), however the onus of physical management has been absorbed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) who is working in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE) and the area Great Lakes Sports Fishermen (GLSF) organizations. None of the later have plush finances or personnel and are relying on the volunteerism of the general sportsmen to get the necessary work done.

Spring is when fish planting takes place. The process involves transport of fish raised in a controlled facility to specific lake tributaries. Upon release, the stock is supposed to disperse out to the bigger lake waters with the hope they later return to spawn. The best practice strategy is to make the drop prior to the spring arrival of cormorants, giving them the edge on survival.

Some species, like steelhead trout, rapidly migrate from where they were planted. The brown trout are not as attuned to survival needs and hang back longer after release, making them susceptible to predation, especially from cormorants.

"We're having all sorts of problems with our brown trout," said Jim Dexter, MDNRE fisheries manager for Lake Michigan. "We've tried planting some earlier, some later, but it doesn't seem to help. Browns tend to hang out in the same place for 10 days to as much as two weeks, and if cormorants don't get them it's walleyes or something else."

Members of the Bays de Noc Great Lakes Sports Fishermen would like to see a change in planting procedures due to the poor dispersal speed of the planted fish. Dave Westerberg from the BDN/GLSF relates that the organization would like to see the fish placed into protective holding areas of the river for a period to acclimate the fish to new home waters, and then trans-locate them in smaller groups out to the big water, much in the same manner they currently and successfully release fish caught during tournaments.

One problem that is occurring now is that the plants are running later than usual, again giving the advantage to cormorants.

Kelly Smith, chief of the MDNRE fisheries division, explained locally the fish were to have been planted in March, but a hatchery problem caused them to be delivered a couple weeks late and after the cormorants had arrived.

There seems to have also been a breakdown in communicating the timing of the plants, especially one recent operation on the Ford River. No one knew of the date and time of the planting and that impacted the GLSF ability to participate in an approved harassment program that is utilized keep the birds off the fish long enough for the lake dispersal to take place.

With short notice, it takes a lot for volunteers to be able to take the time and absorb the expense of working the project. In fact, a similar planting that took place yesterday on the Cedar River is still in need of volunteers with boats to work through the weekend and perhaps the next two weeks to protect the delicate population of new fish.

Anyone able to contribute time can contact Dave Westerberg, Western UP volunteer coordinator, (906) 399-7741, he will explain what help is needed.

While the process is only a small cog in the total gear making the necessary changes, it is a realistic need and a means of providing some serenity to those concerned.


Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.



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