- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

WALKER, Minn. (AP) — Chris Anderson is only half-joking when he offers a solution for the hungry cormorants that are eating the fish in Leech Lake — and taking money out of his pocket.

“Kill them all,” he says of the voracious, predatory birds.

At Mr. Anderson’s resort on the western edge of the lake, just three of 11 cabins were rented for this month’s walleye opener, after six years of strong opening weekends. Over the next month alone, Mr. Anderson figures he will lose $40,000 or more because of cabins standing empty.

Word has spread that walleye fishing on Leech Lake, one of the state’s premier lakes, isn’t what it used to be. That means fewer people will be staying at its resorts or visiting this lakeside town where livelihoods are tied to the elusive and tasty catch.

“People need fish, plain and simple,” said Larry Jacobson, owner of Hiawatha Beach Resort. “They need walleye.”

Prodded by resort owners and fishing guides, wildlife officials have reached a dramatic decision: Over the summer, they will kill 4,000 or more of the diving birds.

Some wildlife biologists and animal rights groups oppose the plan, saying research about the bird and its eating habits is incomplete.

The large hook-billed birds are voracious fish-eaters and they are prevalent throughout North America, with the highest concentrations in the Great Lakes area.

Mr. Anderson has heard several theories about the walleye’s low numbers: poor water quality or development along the 110,000-acre lake. He dismisses them with a wave of his hand.

“It’s the cormorants,” he said. “You should see it when 600 of them fly in here. The sky is black.”

Last year, an estimated 10,000 cormorants were living on Leech Lake. Seven years ago, the lake had about 150. So far, about 2,200 of the birds have been shot and killed.

“I don’t like doing it,” said Harlan Fierstine, the area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “But we think there is enough science to justify this. It’s about finding a balance between preservation and management. That’s not easy.”

Though cormorants are protected by an international migratory bird treaty, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service determined two years ago that states could curb their numbers if they were harming natural resources.

Wildlife officials and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, which owns the island where the birds nest, did an environmental assessment, then agreed to shoot the cormorants. Some of the eggs also may be oiled to prevent them from hatching.

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