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Shoot-out at Little Galloo

Angry fishermen accuse the cormorant of ruining their livelihood and have taken the law into their own hands. But is the cormorant to blame?

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Henchen’s Marina, just down the waterfront, features a whole line of anticormorant paraphernalia, from T-shirts and decals to bumper stickers and pennants. The most repeated image is a red slash across the drawing of a cormorant inside a red circle. Initially, profits from the sale of these items helped pay the fines of the ten men convicted in the cormorant massacre. Now the money goes to Concerned Citizens for Cormorant Control, a local group directed by longtime bass-fishing guide Ron Ditch, who was convicted in the cormorant shootings along with three of his four grown sons.

 

Ditch, 67, a sinewy man with piercing blue eyes, wears a baseball cap that reads “First Annual Little Galloo Shoot-out.” Lettering on the back of the hat, just above the plastic strap, announces the score: Fishermen 850, Cormorants 10. The cap is a present from Ron’s wife, Ora, 67, a snowy-haired woman with a whiplash sense of humor who seems 20 years younger than Ron, although they met the day they both started ninth grade and were married six months after they graduated from a high school outside Syracuse.

 

Ron and Ora Ditch own and operate a marina at the far end of town. Ron has agreed to be interviewed only on the condition that I go fishing with him. At 9 a.m., he shuts off the engine of his 27-foot SportCraft, and we drift by Big Galloo, about a mile from Little Galloo. He casts his baited hook with the lazy perfection of a major league pitcher lobbing a ball to a child. As he talks, his fingers twitch and creep on the handle of his rod as if he were communicating with the bass circling the bait below. He pulls in a dozen or so bass, twice as many as the other anglers in the boat.

 

Ditch believes himself an upright man pushed beyond endurance. “The cormorants were having a multimillion dollar impact,” he says. “If something hadn’t been done, this whole area would have been a wasteland. We couldn’t shoot them fast enough.”

 

As we circle the island, he tells me about how he used to bring clients here in the old, pre-cormorant days. They’d catch their legal limit of five bass each in the morning, put ashore, cook up the fish for a hearty lunch, then go out and catch the limit again in the afternoon. “Now, because of the cormorants, the fish are gone,” he says. “This place will never go back to being what it was.”

 

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