South Carolina Cormorant Hunt Bags A Bunch

South Carolina finally got a belly full of the environmental scourge known as the double crested cormorant. A voracious predator with impressive underwater hunting abilities, this fish-eater's impact on the popular Santee-Cooper Lakes (Moultrie and Marion) prompted the state's first-ever cormorant hunt, Feb. 2-March 31.

Armed with shotguns—no shell limit, non-toxic shot—hunter participating in the Santee Cooper Lakes Double-Crested Cormorant Removal Program removed 11,653 cormorants from the lakes.

The SCDNR justifies the program thusly: The effects of migrant cormorants that winter on the Santee Cooper lakes include competition with the resident fish population for clupeid (herrings, shads, menhaden, etc.) forage, direct predation on out-migrating juvenile shad and herring, direct predation on returning anadromous adults while crowded below the System's dams, and direct predation 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. Permanent damage to flooded bald cypress and tupelo trees used for roosts has also been documented.

Cormorants are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and State Laws, so non-permitted taking is prohibited. DNR is authorized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to designate agents for this action under the Depredation Order for Double-crested Cormorants to Protect Public Resources.

Permitted hunters had to be at least 16, attend a training seminar, complete an application and DNR volunteer form and fill out the Double Crested Cormorant Removal Report Form regardless of their success.

Similar hunts occurred in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and other states where cormorant numbers were high last year. Other states, including Texas and Oregon are taking a close look at South Carolina's cormorant control efforts and considering aggressive measures of their own.

Note to cormorants: Watch your six.

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