Federal sharpshooters will begin killing cormorants on Leech Lake this week as part of a plan to cull a growing flock of birds, which are blamed for declining walleye numbers on the lake.
The population of cormorants has jumped from about 150 nesting adults in 1998 to more than 5,000 last year. There may be another 3,000 juvenile birds. Officials say the soaring number of fish-eating birds has coincided with poor walleye fishing.
"We're pretty convinced they are having a significant impact," said Ron Payer, Department of Natural Resources fisheries management chief.
The birds each gobble up about 1 pound of fish daily.
"We estimate they consumed in excess of 1 million pounds of fish last year," said Henry Drewes, DNR regional fisheries manager in Bemidji. "That's a level of predation that wasn't present prior to 1998. There's going to be an effect."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's animal damage control division will kill up to 80 percent, or about 4,000, of the adult cormorants nesting on Little Pelican Island.
The Leech Lake Band of Chippewa will oversee the effort. In addition to killing the birds with high-powered pellet rifles, crews may also apply vegetable oil on eggs, said Steve Mortenson, of the Leech Lake tribe. The corn oil makes the eggs infertile, so new chicks don't hatch, but nesting adults will continue to sit on the eggs.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.