cor·mo·rant noun \ˈkȯrm-rənt, ˈkȯr-mə-, ˈkȯr-mə-ˌrant\...Definition; worthless fish eating trash bird that needs eliminated from the planet!
Ok..so maybe that's not Webster's definition word for word but it should be! Cormorants started showing up on the tail waters last year and their numbers have probably tripled this season. They probably began by coming down from the lakes after the shad kill and discovered a waiting buffet supplied by TWRA and your trout stamp dollars! Joining the club as yet another invasive species that love to dine on trout..your trout! Blue herons have been around on these waters forever and although they get a few trout they at least have to stand in the shallows and wait for fish to approach. Not so with Mr. cormorant. He can dive into the holes and swim at speeds up to thirty miles per hour, plenty fast enough to catch even the speediest of trout. Not only that, but they work as a team to corral fish and catch them. They are capable of completely wiping out an area of fish before they move on to the next spot. I saw this first hand last year in a deep slow area below one of the put ins on the Holston..this area always held a bunch of fish as it was just downstream of a stocking area. Nobody fished it, it was too deep to wade and the few boats that put in mainly just passed through, as it is not typical trout looking water, but I repeat, it was full of fish. Then one day I saw a cormorant on one of the stumps in the river..two days later I saw 6.. one week later there were no trout..none..the cormorants were gone but so were all the trout. Nobody kept them, they did not move or die, the cormorants ate them and moved on.
Most of the time when you see them they are flying over or just lounging in the sun, that's because they mainly feed right after dawn and at dusk, they spend the rest of the day digesting trout provided for them by the anglers of the state of Tennessee. So why not just blast them? Well for one it's illegal..they are protected under the waterfowl act. For another they are very wary, usually taking flight before you approach although recently I have noticed them becoming more brazen and flying directly over the boat within..shall we say..easy viewing range.
A quick Internet search will reveal how devastating to fisheries these birds are, even fish too large for them to swallow will be scarred from encounters with them. Some countries even have shoot on sight policies to protect valuable fisheries from their predation.
So what can we do about them? First contact TWRA and make them aware of the problem. They're often spread pretty thin, and may not even be aware of the situation. Getting rid of them is apparently a very big problem as once they find a suitable feeding area they are reluctant to leave until the resource has been depleted. Harassment measures such as air cannons and protective netting have been useful on ponds and small lakes but not practical on large areas of water. Human harassment also works but as they typically feed when angler activity is at its lowest that is also not very effective in larger areas. Since the banning of the pesticide DDT they have been making a huge comeback and if we want to continue to have quality fisheries, that needs to be curbed.
Rumor has it they are very susceptible to lead poisoning and that might be the only answer. So keep your eyes out for them, let TWRA officials know about the problem, and as with most invasive pests the answer will probably lie in sportsmen and women's active participation in controlling their numbers.