2006-06-29 / Front Page

Cormorant Numbers Down Owing to Control

By Paul Gingras

"These may be the last two cormorants on Brevort Lake," said Jimmie Miller, project manager for the Cormorant Control Group, as he cruised toward a dead snag where two double-crested cormorants flittered nervously at the approaching boat.

Two resilient cormorants remain at Brevort Lake, despite months of harassment by the local cormorant control group. After two years of intense harassment with pyrotechnics and lethal shootings, the birds have become very skittish and prepare to fly as a boat approaches. Two resilient cormorants remain at Brevort Lake, despite months of harassment by the local cormorant control group. After two years of intense harassment with pyrotechnics and lethal shootings, the birds have become very skittish and prepare to fly as a boat approaches. Weeks after the harassment project ended, Mr. Miller still had his pyrotechnic gun handy. Two shots, and the large, long necked birds were sent flying for the woods.

"The birds began showing around April 18," Mr. Miller said. "But by May 13, there was no more lethal shooting of cormorants allowed."

In 2005, cormorants arrived on Brevort Lake like a dark cloud, said area residents. Several flocks, hundreds strong, descended one after another and decimated the fishery, they noted.

"This year, the largest flock we saw was about 50 birds," Mr. Miller said. "Most came in flocks of 10 to 15. It was not even close to what we saw last year."

Jimmie Miller, head of the local cormorant control group in Brevort Township, surveys the reef where, one year ago, doublecrested cormorants flocked en masse. Today, the reefs are nearly empty of the voracious birds, which are thought to have decimated the fishery. Only seagulls walk the reef, and in the background, fishermen have returned to try their luck. Jimmie Miller, head of the local cormorant control group in Brevort Township, surveys the reef where, one year ago, doublecrested cormorants flocked en masse. Today, the reefs are nearly empty of the voracious birds, which are thought to have decimated the fishery. Only seagulls walk the reef, and in the background, fishermen have returned to try their luck. "We pretty much trained them," he added. The birds avoided Christensen Bay, at the east end of the large, relatively shallow lake, and Boedney Bay, at the western end. Last year, shooters concentrated their efforts on these bays, boaters chased birds all over the water, and residents shot pyrotechnic "scare devices" from random points around the lake. The cormorant control project included members of the Brevort Lake Association, the Straits Area Sportsmen's Club, and Brevort Township residents.

"There was a huge response," Mr. Miller said. "A lot of people wanted to help."

Mr. Miller speculates that many cormorants passing through the area last year did not make it back, owing to similar projects that took place elsewhere in the United States.

"We were a pilot program," he added. "People around the Bay de Noc area, Houghton Lake, and a number of little inland lakes are doing what we're doing here."

The project was well funded in 2006. Mr. Miller had $6,678 to work with, $2,700 of which was carryover from 2005. This year, the Cormorant Control Group received $5,000 from the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

These funds wait in a savings account to be used next spring, although some of the funding may be used to purchase pyrotechnics this summer, if the birds return.

"The grant was very generous," Mr. Miller said. "I'm happy the Tribe feels assured that we will do what we can to get the fishery back."

Fishing on Brevort Lake is good this summer, he said, but "not great, yet."

When the cormorants came this spring, they seemed more scared than before, Mr. Miller said. They reacted quickly to the sound of boat motors but could not take refuge on the man-made fishing reefs in the lake. Manned blinds had been set up on them.

The group estimates that roughly half the number of cormorants returned this season. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), approximately 19,138 birds were driven from Brevort Lake last year, and according to Mr. Miller, there were 626 lethal shootings, compared to 336 this spring.

To the west, Curtis resident Ray Lyon said, "There are far fewer cormorants this year. Before, there were flocks of thousands. They didn't go away; they're just not as bad now." Mr. Lyon participated in this year's project on South Manistique Lake, once known as Whitefish Lake. He has participated in the effort to drive away double-crested cormorants for the past four years, he said, and the effort was still in progress Tuesday, June 13. His group includes between seven and 14 members at a time.

Fishing on South Manistique lake is "spotty," he said. There are some large northern pike, but most are small. The walleye in the lake are also undersized, he added, most 13 inches or smaller.

"The birds definitely reduced the fish population," he said. For the past three years, the fishery has been in decline, although better fishing has been noted by ice fishermen.

Near the Straits of Mackinac, cormorants have appeared in force on Green Island and the west side of Long Island. Approximately 600 birds and up to 250 nests have been reported by the USDA, Mr. Miller said.

Local groups are not allowed to harass these birds, however. USDA workers are oiling the eggs, a process that suffocates the embryos inside. They focus this effort on eggs laid on the ground, although there also are nests in the trees.

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