The anti-conservation comments made by fishing charter Capt. Buddy Vanderhoop in the July issue of Martha’s Vineyard Magazine about shooting cormorants are outrageous.
“They have no predators here — except me. It’s so much fun to shoot ’em!” Mr. Vanderhoop told the interviewer. Recounting shotgunning a large number of cormorants in 2003 on Wampanoag land, he continued: “Because it was done on tribal property, the state couldn’t prosecute me, but the tribe banned me from the herring creek for a year.”
He also said: “You gotta get rid of some of these birds that are here. If you could get permits, say, for 500 a year . . . I could do cast-and-blast charters: Go catch your limit of fish, then blow away about 100 birds.”
Buddy Vanderhoop’s celebrity clients should be forewarned: what he is advocating is illegal under both state and federal law. Casting and blasting could land them all heavy fines, at a minimum.
Mr. Vanderhoop’s complaint is that the fish-eating cormorants are taking too many herring and other species. It is true that the double-crested cormorant population in North America has been on the rise since the birds were protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1972, when they were in danger of dying out because of widespread DDT poisoning. In 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did expand the rights of citizens and managers to deal with the expanding cormorant population.
In 24 states, local managers are now allowed to kill cormorants that threaten public resources. In 13 of these states, private aquaculture producers are allowed to shoot cormorants feeding on their private ponds.
Massachusetts is not one of those states. Here, as Mr. Vanderhoop should be well aware, cormorants are still a fully protected “species of critical concern,” where such measures are not allowed by law. He would need to apply for multiple permits in order to legally do something about the birds. Not that he seems to care. He’s a willing participant in what one expert calls “a witch hunt” against cormorants, which are not deemed a fully recovered species. The National Audubon Society predicts: “In the long term, the population will likely decline and then stabilize due to disease, lack of available nesting habitat, or changes in food resources.”
In 2003, after telling the Vineyard Gazette he was justified in illegally shooting 11 cormorants by the herring run, Mr. Vanderhoop said: “We weren’t making any money,” referring to himself and his brother Chip. He added that other members of the Wampanoag Tribe “are ignorant of the fact that they [the cormorants] are doing so much damage.” To the tribe’s credit, it prohibited Mr. Vanderhoop “from participating in the commercial activity relating to the taking of herring” that season. (That was also the first summer we observed a recurrence of herring in the creek).
The tribe should give careful scrutiny to Mr. Vanderhoop’s latest blast against this protected species. So should federal, state, and local environmental enforcement agencies. According to the National Audubon Society: “Double-crested cormorants have a long history of being persecuted by humans.”
Where we live part of the year in Mexico, on the Sea of Cortez, we have long admired the unique behavior of cormorants and their friends, the pelicans. The pelicans sight the bait in the water and signal the cormorants, who dive under and push the bait up where pelicans can easily catch it. After a good feed, they all rest together on the rocks, the cormorants preening the pelicans. It is wonderful to watch the seemingly “loving” relationship between the species.
In the world we now live in, with such a fragile environmental balance, the Vanderhoop attitude is simply unconscionable. Respect for life is what is important, above all, and that is why we have laws. Native Americans are supposedly stewards of nature, an example to follow. Yet when Buddy Vanderhoop speaks of the pride he takes in the whaling tradition of his ancestors, it makes one wonder whether — if he was not shooting cormorants — he would just as soon be out there killing whales.
Dick Russell and Jessie Benton live in Chilmark.