The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has announced two training sessions in January and February for anyone interested in participating in a hunting season that will be held to try to diminish the impact of double-crested cormorants on forage fish and other natural resources in the Santee Cooper area.
A special permit will be required for this first-ever season on cormorants in addition to a hunting license, and permits will only be issued to people who attend one of the two training sessions. The training will emphasize safety, area of action, species identification, weapon restrictions and program dates and hours.
The training sessions will be held Tuesday, Jan. 7, at 6 p.m., and Saturday, Feb. 8, at 2 p.m. at the Santee Cooper Auditorium at Santee Cooper headquarters at 1 Riverwood Drive in Moncks Corner. Pre-registration is not required.
Although cormorants are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty, SCDNR was able to obtain a depredation order from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, accorrding to Derrell Shipes, chief of statewide wildlife projects for SCDNR, because of growing evidence their numbers are impacting the lake’s fish populations.
The effects of migratory cormorants that overwinter on the Santee Cooper Lakes include competition with the resident fish population for forage fish, including herring, shad and menhaden, direct predation on juvenile shad and herring migrating out of the systems and direct predation on returning anadromous adults while crowded below the system’s dams, 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.
Cormorant hunting will be restricted to the legal boundaries of the Santee Cooper lakes and allowed only in areas where waterfowl hunting is legal. The season on cormorants will run Feb. 2 through March 31, with legal shooting hours 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.
"This is legally sound, and we believe that it is in the best interests of the fishery on the Santee Cooper lakes," Shipes said. "How effective it will be, we don't know, and we don't know how many birds will be taken."