Washington, DC, July 15, 2020 — A year-round open season for shooting double-crested cormorants is the antithesis of science-based wildlife management, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The new plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would allow state game agencies to kill approximately one in seven of the aquatic fish-eating birds every year for the next five years.
In 2016, PEER won a lawsuit to end similar shoot-on-sight permits FWS had issued for 24 states east of the Mississippi. Since then, the FWS has issued individual “take” permits for cormorants determined to be a nuisance requiring lethal removal, accounting for under 30,000 takes per year.
FWS has now forwarded a plan to issue permits to all game agencies in the lower 48 to kill an assigned quota of double-crested cormorants totaling up to 123,157 birds every year. The PEER comments focus on the plan’s analytic holes, including –
- Admitted inability to monitor impacts on double-crested cormorant populations;
- Total uncertainty as to level of harm caused to co-nesting and look-alike birds; and
- Utterly opaque efficacy. FWS is ignoring studies that double-crested cormorants have little effect on sport or commercially valuable fish which are supposed to benefit.
“Our previous lawsuit was successful because the Service failed to do its science homework – a lesson it apparently has yet to learn,” said PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting that despite being protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, thousands of cormorants are dispatched every year. “This plan lacks any specific goal for promoting native fish stocks or hatcheries while proposing very specific cormorant carcass counts.”
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The seemingly counter-biological trigger FWS proposes for permits is that cormorants can be taken if they predate or threaten to predate on “free-swimming” fish. Since the cormorant diet consists of fish, the plan equates to a shoot-on-sight authorization. FWS is not proposing any similar lethal measures for other fish-eating birds, such as pelicans, terns, or ospreys, however.
“Singling out double-crested cormorants for mass termination is a political decision that lacks any ecological purpose,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that FWS’ main rationale is administrative convenience. “These shoot-on-sight permits represent an unfortunate advance of the militarization of wildlife management, with a shotgun as its principal tool.”
The public comment period on FWS’ double-crested cormorant plan ends on Monday, July 20th.