NAA Requests Action on Bird Depredation Permitting
The National Aquaculture Association (NAA) has requested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issue individual depredation permits for the double-crested cormorant or amend existing permits to include the bird. This request was made to assist farmers in managing, through non-lethal and lethal techniques, the fall migration of these birds from northern to southern states.
NAA’s request is predicated on a legal challenge of a five year extension of two FWS depredation orders. The challenge was successful and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia remanded the 2014 Aquaculture Depredation Order (AQDO) for the double-crested cormorant. In its subsequent May 2016 opinion, the Court noted the opportunity for FWS to issue individual permits and appeared to rule in favor of vacatur because of the availability of individual permits. The Court wrote:
“…if the Court were to vacate these orders, the parties agree that alternative routes remain available for the management of cormorant populations, for example, through individual predation permits under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act…[A]according to FWS, ‘migratory bird permits could be requested and issued for the reduction of cormorant impacts on sensitive species or their habitats (vegetation).’ While the Court understands the limitations of relying on state management plans and individual permits…particularly in the long term, the takeaway remains that any seriously detrimental impact of vacatur in the short term could be mitigated. The availability of these alternative measures counsels in favor of vacatur” (Emphasize added).
The Court concluded that the FWS had “…not made a compelling case that rescission [of the depredation order] will cause significant consequences to aquaculture because the forecasted harms are imprecise or speculative.”
The double-crested cormorant is a large waterbird that feeds mainly on fish. Commercial fish ponds are stocked at high densities which make fish farms highly susceptible to cormorant predation. A bioenergetics model developed prior to the AQDO estimated cormorant related production losses on Mississippi catfish farms at 18 to 20 million fingerlings per winter. A 1996 USDA survey of catfish producers indicated that birds were responsible for 37% of catfish losses. Cormorants cause additional economic hardship by spreading fish parasites.
The AQDO represented smart government in the leveraging of the biological expertise of the FWS with the on-farm assistance provided by the USDA Wildlife Services. The FWS has been reissuing the AQDO every five years since 1998. The AQDO allows commercial freshwater fish producers in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas that hold a permit issued by the FWS to take double-crested cormorants when the birds were found committing, or about to commit, depredation on aquaculture stocks. Farmers are required to implement non-lethal techniques as a precondition to being permitted to use lethal take under these permits.
For copies of the NAA’s request and related materials, please contact the NAA office at 850-216-2400 or email@example.com.