A Senate bill authorizing fish farmers to use lethal force to protect their aquaculture ponds from fish-eating birds is now before U.S. lawmakers for consideration.
Senate Bill 1050, known as the Cormorant Relief Act, was filed in March by Senators Tom Cotton and John Boozman (AK); Cindy Hyde Smith (MS), and Tommy Tuberville (AL).
The predatory birds threaten the livelihoods of aquaculture operations in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and other states. If passed, SB 1050 would restore a 1998 USFWS regulation called Aquaculture Depredation Orders (AQDO), which allowed producers to fight the cormorants. However, AQDO was vacated in 2016 after it was challenged in court.
Mike Freeze, of Keo Fish Farm Inc in Keo, Arkansas, said AQDO has helped fish farmers. “The million-dollar losses caused by bird depredation did not occur during the years when AQDO was in effect,” he said.
Cormorant populations have increased dramatically in recent decades to an estimated 1.03 million birds, according to the National Aquaculture Association (NAA). “These large water birds feast primarily on fish, causing substantial damage and disruption to aquaculture and fishery operations. Ironically, efficient production practices by fish farmers make the ponds highly susceptible to bird predation, particularly by cormorants,” it said.
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