Questions and Answers

Final Rule: Cormorant Depredation Order

Question. Why doesn't the depredation order apply to situations in which double-crested cormorants prey on sport fish in public waters?

Answer. A review of the limited available scientific evidence indicates that cormorants generally have only minor direct impacts on sport fish populations. Other options are available for dealing, on a case-by-case basis, with localized situations in which cormorant predation on sport fish has been proven to be a significant problem. These options include (1) modification of release practices for hatchery-reared fish to reduce their vulnerability to cormorant predation, (2) harassment of depredating birds, and (3) discouraging birds from establishing new colonies in important sport-fishing lakes.

Question. Why isn't the existing procedure of issuing depredation permits to individual fish farmers adequate for dealing with cormorant problems?

Answer. Because of the administrative procedures involved in the issuance of permits, there may be a lag time of several weeks between a fish farmer's request for a permit and his or her receipt of a permit authorizing lethal take. In the interim, cormorant depredations can result in significant economic losses. The depredation order will allow aquaculturists to employ lethal take as soon as it becomes apparent that cormorant depredation is a problem.

Question. Double-crested cormorants are a growing problem in my state, so why wasn't it included in the depredation order?

Answer. The final rule includes only those 13 States for which there is documented evidence that double-crested cormorants pose significant problems to the commercial aquaculture industry. It includes 12 major catfish-producing States in the southcentral and southeastern U.S., plus Minnesota, a major producer of baitfish. Nineteen other States in the northcentral and northeastern U.S. that had originally been included in the proposed rule were deleted from the final rule because of lack of evidence that cormorants cause major impacts to the aquaculture industry in those States. The Service will consider adding additional States to the depredation order upon receipt of evidence that double-crested cormorants are responsible for significant economic losses at aquaculture facilities.

Question. I have major problems with double-crested cormorants at my fish farm, yet my State is not included in the depredation order. What options do I have for reducing my losses?

Answer. Individual aquaculture depredation permits will still be available to fish farmers on a case-by-case basis for dealing with damages caused by cormorants at commercial aquaculture facilities in States not covered by the depredation order. Expansion of the depredation order to other States is possible in the future.

Question. Isn't the depredation order contrary to the protections afforded the double-crested cormorant by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act?

Answer. The MBTA provides strong measures for the protection and conservation of migratory birds (including cormorants), while at the same time providing opportunities for people to use the resource for sport, recreation, and scientific endeavors. The MBTA also provides considerable flexibility for dealing with situations where birds may come into conflict with human interests, such as the aquaculture-cormorant situation.

Question. Why doesn't the depredation order allow lethal take of cormorants in conjunction with harassment activities at winter roosts.

Answer. Studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program indicate that harassment of cormorants at winter roost sites is a promising technique for diverting cormorants away from the immediate vicinity of aquaculture facilities. There is no evidence, however, that the addition of lethal take would significantly increase the effectiveness of roost harassment. The Service encourages additional research to demonstrate the effects of adding a lethal component to roost harassment, and will consider applications for depredation permits to allow lethal control in conjunction with roost harassment.

Question. What affect will the depredation order have on double-crested cormorant populations?

Answer. The North American double-crested cormorant population currently numbers about 1-2 million birds, with a minimum of 612,000 young added to the population each year. Enactment of the depredation order is expected to result in only a modest increase in the number of cormorants killed at aquaculture facilities, and is not likely to have a detrimental impact on the population. In addition to gathering information on the numbers of cormorants shot, the Service will monitor potential impacts of the depredation order on regional and continental cormorant populations by means of several independent sources of data.

Question. Aren't non-lethal control techniques effective in reducing conflicts between cormorants and commercial aquaculture?

Answer. Of the many non-lethal devices tested, none has proven totally effective in deterring cormorants from aquaculture facilities. Typically, birds learn to avoid or ignore these devices in a relatively short period of time. Some form of behavioral reinforcement (such as limited lethal take) helps to reinforce and prolong the effectiveness of non-lethal techniques.

Question. Doesn't the depredation order discourage aquaculturists from investing in non-lethal, long-term solutions to cormorant depredation?

Answer. The depredation order does not absolve aquaculturists from the responsibility of employing non-lethal control techniques. It simply provides with another tool for use in an integrated approach to reducing problems caused by cormorants at their facilities. The Service believe that the aquaculture industry shares responsibility for reducing bird depredation problems and that the industry should promote the design of new facilities that exclude or repel cormorants, as well as the use of non-lethal deterrents.


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