LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Fish farmers in Arkansas now have federal permits that allow them to kill a limited number of double-crested cormorants as the birds flee the ice and snow of the Great Lakes area.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently resumed issuing such permits to operators and employees of fish farms in several states, including Arkansas. It set the total kill limit in the state at about 6,600 birds through April.
The department is issuing the permits under a new environmental assessment that weighs the bird’s population count against the economic losses of fish farms and threats to public health and safety. Cormorants are especially attracted to certain types of baitfish raised in large ponds in the South, and Arkansas exports more than 6 billion baitfish a year as part of its $170 aquaculture industry.
Cormorants were nearly wiped out in the 1960s by pesticides, but the population was revived when the bird was placed under the protection of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1972. The new kill limit is based on a percentage of the kill count on Arkansas farms between 2010 and 2015, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
“Our biggest farms now will be allowed to kill maybe 100 or 200 cormorants,” said Thurman Booth, Arkansas director of wildlife services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stopped issuing two kinds of “depredation orders” after losing a federal lawsuit in May 2016. One order allowed a certain number of kills for farms, and another for state wildlife agencies to protect public land and waters.
That left farmers without much defense last winter against cormorants, Booth said.
“Last year, some of those farmers had 4,000 to 5,000 cormorants on their farms – and they couldn’t kill any cormorants by any means,” he said. “They experienced a tremendous financial loss.”
The agency is still studying the effects cormorants have on recreational and commercial fishing.