Feds cautioned Ontario on proposed cormorant hunt

The federal government has recommended Ontario’s proposed cormorant hunt avoid opening during the reproductive seasons of other protected birds that migrate and nest alongside cormorants so hunters avoid charges for violating federal laws protecting those birds.

Cormorant hunt could land Ontario hunters with charges if they disrupt federally protected species

The federal government has weighed in on Ontario’s proposal to open up a cormorant hunt by warning the province’s hunters that they could be charged if shooting disrupts the protected birds.

Documents obtained through a freedom-of-information request show the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry received feedback from Environment Canada when it opened its proposed cormorant hunt to public comment last November.

The proposed hunt would allow hunters to kill 50 birds each day for 291 days a year, between mid March to December — the longest hunt of any game bird in the province. The hunting season for most other birds begins in the fall. 

The problem facing hunting enthusiasts is that cormorants migrate and nest with a number of protected birds, including herring, ring-billed gulls, as well as many others, Samantha Bayard, a spokesperson with Environment Canada, wrote in an email. 

She said the birds are federally protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Migratory Birds Regulations.

“Within this context, the concern … involves the direct and indirect consequences to the reproductive success and survival of federally protected migratory birds if the killing of cormorants is permitted during nesting season— at or near mixed-species colonies,” Bayard said. 

“Any hunter causing harm to federally-protected migratory birds or their nests could be charged under federal law.”

Civil servants warned about conflict

Documents obtained by CBC show civil servants at the provincial natural resources ministry had already warned their minister as early as October that there could be a conflict with federal law.

“To reduce the risk to hunters committing federal violations under the Migratory Birds Regulation, such as accidentally shooting migratory game birds out of season or with the improper firearms, it is recommended that proposed hunting rules be consistent with migratory bird hunting regulations,” read Minister John Yakabuski’s briefing note dated October 2, 2018. 

The briefing note was signed by the deputy minister. 

But the ministry disregarded the recommendations contained in that document, which advised against a cormorant hunt until the wildlife experts could first establish the science-based evidence of what was needed in the first place. 

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