More than 800 cormorants found shot on Lake Ontario Federally protected birds believed to have been slain by disgruntled anglers


Officially, the double-crested cormorant is a protected species, its safety guarded by federal law. But on the Lake Ontario shoreline west of Watertown, N.Y., the long-necked black birds have become a pest to anglers, who say the growing colonies of cormorants are devouring smallmouth bass and, along with them, the livelihood of people who sell bait and run charter fishing trips.

This week, wildlife officials visiting an island nesting ground discovered an unusually shocking environmental crime: more than 800 cormorants slaughtered by shotgun fire. Although they have no suspects, officials say they believe the festering conflict between conservation and commerce is responsible for what they are calling one of the worst mass killings of a federally protected bird species in recent decades.

State biologists said that when they went ashore on the uninhabited Little Galloo Island on Wednesday, they encountered heaps of carcasses of fledgling cormorants, piles of shotgun shells and starving chicks squawking weakly among the carnage.

Around eastern Lake Ontario, fish-eating cormorants have staged a recovery since the 1950s, when they were nearly wiped out by pesticides and shooting.

In Henderson and other fishing towns near Little Galloo Island, owners of charter boats and other fishing related businesses, joined by some officials, have been pressing the government for several years to allow legalized hunting of cormorants, which they claim are responsible for a drop in populations of smallmouth bass and other popular game fish.

With the decline in the sport fishing industry being blamed on the birds, there has been more talk along the shore lately of taking action, said Ron Ditch, a charter boat owner and guide for 43 years in Henderson Harbor.

"I've been pretty instrumental in trying to do this in a proper and legal manner," Ditch said yesterday. "But everyone's been hearing rumblings forever about how people are going to go out and take care of the situation. Apparently, someone finally wouldn't be talked out of it anymore."

Pub Date: 8/01/98

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