|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 4, 1998
|Diana M. Hawkins or
Hugh Vickery 202-208-5634
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today issued a depredation order allowing catfish
farmers and other commercial aquaculturalists in 13 states to take cormorants that are
preying on their fish stocks after nonlethal means to protect their fish have been shown
not to work.
The order will be one component of an integrated program to reduce cormorant
depredation losses at aquaculture facilities. Lethal take will supplement and increase the
effectiveness of the nonlethal alternatives available to aquaculturists.
The order is not intended to control the cormorant population, estimated to be
increasing annually at a rate of 6-7 percent; rather, it is directed at site-specific
problems in which cormorants are eating catfish and other commercially important fish
"Populations of double-crested cormorants have exploded in recent years, causing
significant economic loss to fish farmers," said Service Director Jamie Rappaport
Clark. "With this depredation order, the Service is letting aquaculturalists take
action to protect their livelihood when nonlethal methods are ineffective. This action
will have no significant effect on the cormorant population but will provide needed relief
on a site-specific basis."
The Service estimates the depredation order will save as much as $20 million in fish
taken each year in the $714 million aquaculture industry. The greatest impact will be in
the Mississippi Delta region where catfish farmers lose an average of 3 to 7 percent of
their inventory each year to double-crested cormorants. Some farmers are being hit
particularly hard by the birds while others are not affected at all.
The order applies to the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina,
Tennessee, and Texas.
Aquaculturalists may shoot birds only at facilities with an established nonlethal
harassment program as certified by officials of state wildlife agencies and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
To take cormorants under this depredation order, aquaculturalists must first obtain
certification from their state wildlife agency that a cormorant depredation problem
exists, that they have employed nonlethal techniques to control cormorant depredation,
that nonlethal controls have not been effective, and that lethal control is warranted.
Double-crested cormorants are long-necked, large-bodied diving birds. Their webbed feet
and hooked beaks are adapted for chasing and capturing fish under water. Cormorant
populations are now believed to be at an all-time high of between 1 and 2 million birds.
Aquaculturalists have had to rely on either harassing the birds, which is often
ineffective, or putting net covers over their facilities to keep the birds out, which is
often unfeasible or prohibitively expensive.
The order will require aquaculturalists to maintain a monthly log of the number of
birds taken. These logs will be supplemented by phone and mail surveys conducted by the
Service. Several other sources of data will also be reviewed annually to monitor the
effects of the order on cormorant populations.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for
conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the
continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages 511 national wildlife
refuges covering 92 million acres, as well as 67 national fish hatcheries.
The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, manages migratory bird populations, restores
nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as
wetlands, administers the Endangered Species Act, and helps foreign governments with their
conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes Federal
excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies. This program is
a cornerstone of the Nation's wildlife management efforts, funding fish and wildlife
restoration, boating access, hunter education, shooting ranges, and related projects
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Release #: N98-014
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