Nearly 12,000 fewer cormorants are eating fish in the Santee Cooper system.
That’s because the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) granted permits to 1,225 hunters to shoot the birds Feb. 2 to March 1 on Lakes Moultrie and Marion. Forty percent of those reported back, with a final tally of 11,653.
The agency said the hunt was necessary to reduce predation on forage, including herring, shad, and menhaden, as well as on juvenile game fish and catfish.
“In addition, cormorant harassment has been linked to significant winter kills of adult redear sunfish too large to swallow,” it said. “Permanent damage to flooded bald cypress and tupelo trees used for roosts has also been documented.”
For decades the birds were protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and their numbers exploded as resident populations established themselves on large lakes and impoundments. Recently, though, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has granted states permission to reduce their numbers.
Mostly only agency personnel have been involved in these efforts. But South Carolina decided to enlist public assistance to reduce shoot the birds that anglers love to hate. Permits were granted to those who attended a training session and agreed to follow the strict rules.
“The taking of cormorants will be restricted to the legal boundaries of the Santee Cooper lakes and will be allowed only in areas where waterfowl hunters can legally hunt waterfowl,” SCDNR said.
While many were pleased with the state’s first cormorant hunt, some were not.
“When I requested scientific evidence from SCDNR to justify this proposed hunt, none was provided,” said Norman Brunswig of Audubon South Carolina. “I strongly suspect that none exists. Rather, as I’ve said, I believe that the SCDNR has been pushed and bullied into an unnecessary slaughter of a native non-game bird, by fishermen, fishing guides, and a few powerful but misguided politicians.”
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)