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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?

Money spent on sportfishing in the eastern LakeOntario area fell 18 percent between 1988 and 1996, according to a 2002 CornellUniversity study. But Tommy Brown, its lead author, says negative media publicity and fewer plankton probably had as much to do with the decline as the cormorants. “And for some anglers,” he adds, “the novelty of Great Lakes fishing, especially for salmon and lake trout, simply may have worn off.” (In fact, fishing’s allure has lost luster nationwide. A 2001 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) survey suggests that the number of days individuals 16 and older spend fishing each year declined nearly 44 percent between 1985 and 2001.)

 

Under pressure from local fishermen in the mid- 1990s, the DEC obtained permits from the FWS to knock down nests on other islands and to curb the population on Little Galloo. But before DEC acted on Little Galloo, a new study, begun in 1998, suggested that the cormorants were indeed depleting smallmouth bass stocks in eastern LakeOntario. DEC proposed oiling the eggs, which suffocates the embryos, and, if necessary, shooting adults. They set a target of 1,500 pairs for Little Galloo. But by then the Henderson shooters had already loaded their shotguns.

 

On little galloo the smell of ammonia is strong. Gulls whirl above the ghostly landscape. Skeletal branches of ash and oak trees are bedecked with black birds. Atangled mat of wild geranium covers much of the island. “Maybe it’s not pretty,” says Irene Mazzocchi, a DEC wildlife technician, “but you have to admit it has a certain magnificence.”

 

Four steps in from the mussel-shelled beach, we’re deafened by the high-pitched shrieks of thousands of ring-billed gulls as they swirl in a blizzard around our heads. We skirt a colony of some 1,500 pairs of Caspian terns (the only such colony in New YorkState) and trek through 50,000 pairs of ring-bills.

 

“I love cormorants,” says Chip Weseloh. “But great egrets and black-crowned night herons and other species are being turfed off by them, and vegetation on LakeOntario islands is being wiped out. We do need to restrict the cormorants to certain islands and push them off the others.”

 

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