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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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The cormorant nests are clustered on the ground on the outer fringes of the island. As we approach, the birds get up and move away, exposing clutches of pale, aqua-colored eggs. The nests are woven from thick, longish twigs, and they incorporate slips of plastic, string, old lures, dead herring gull carcasses, even a pair of battered sunglasses.


Wielding a sprayer wand and working fast, Russ McCullough coats each egg with corn oil, moving from nest to nest and calling out the number of eggs in each to Mazzocchi, who writes it down. As soon as we move on, the birds hurry back to their nests, unaware that no chicks will hatch from these eggs.


Even the oiling of cormorant eggs is a subject of intense debate. Though most Henderson fishermen are all for it, some of them say that the repeated visits to Little Galloo are disturbing the birds and worsening the problem by causing them to move to new areas. Indeed, up and down the Great Lakes and into the St. Lawrence River, cormorants are nesting in places they haven’t been seen in before. Several researchers, including DEC biologist Jim Farquhar, believe that shooting adults off nests without chicks may be more humane and effective than oiling eggs. Some DEC biologists also advocate developing a coordinated international effort to control cormorant populations. And Congressman John McHugh (R-NY) has introduced legislation to open a hunting season on cormorants.


before leaving henderson, I stop by the Ditch marina. Ora is minding the gas pump while her husband busies himself upstairs. “Ron thinks it’s all the cormorants’ fault because that’s what he sees,” she says. “It’s not just that, of course. It’s the cost of gasoline. It’s that Canadians don’t come here anymore because of the exchange rate. It’s that people aren’t coming because of publicity about the cormorants.


“And do you know what?” she asks. “Young folks just aren’t fishing anymore. They don’t have time to fish! Soccer practice, piano lessons, play practice. My own grandchildren don’t have time to fish. Heck, no one even eats together anymore.” She shakes her head and echoes her husband’s words. “This place will never go back to being what it was.”


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