Cormorants Continue to Get a Bad Rap

In a joint letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), American Bird Conservancy, National Audubon Society, and Defenders of Wildlife voiced their opposition to the proposed extension of a 2003 rule allowing for the widespread lethal control of Double-crested Cormorants. The rule provides for the blanket killing of cormorants at aquaculture facilities and recreational fishing sites based on their alleged impact to fish stocks, yet requires no scientific evidence on a case by case basis that they are actually causing harm.


Extensive drainage and degradation of wetlands, plus the historic widespread use of DDT and other pesticides impacted cormorant populations, which reached their lowest point in the mid-1970s. With the banning of DDT, the species has now rebounded, resulting in perceived but unproven conflicts with fishing interests.


Citing the lack scientific justification for the blanket depredation order, the three organizations called on FWS to complete a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) before reauthorizing the 2003 rule for another five years. The letter states, “… an SEIS would allow for an update of the concerns of the fishing and aquaculture industries, an evaluation of control efforts to date (including the impact of the control efforts on fish and cormorant populations throughout the range covered by the orders), and a consideration of alternatives for cormorant control.”


“While there may be individual cases where cormorants pose a risk to fish stocks, American Bird Conservancy believes that these birds are being made scapegoats for a plethora of other issues that no one wishes to acknowledge,” said Darin Schroeder, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President of Conservation Advocacy. “We urge FWS to examine the full scope of the conflicts it seeks to evaluate and address, including the impacts of water pollution, dredging, non-native species, unsustainable commercial fish take, development, erosion, loss of wetlands, climate change, and other factors, all of which can play a role in the decline of fish populations.”


Finally, the three conservation organizations strongly objected to FWS’s Draft Environmental Assessment, which was used instead of a comprehensive SEIS, and which failed to consider any non-lethal alternatives, even though several of these may prove to be more effective or more cost-efficient in some circumstances.