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TPWD News Release — May 31, 2004

Proposal Would Allow Permitted Control of Cormorants

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is proposing a new program under which managers of private ponds and lakes would be issued permits to control the double-crested cormorant, a fish-eating bird that some anglers and landowners consider a nuisance.

In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule that allowed wildlife agencies in 24 states to control cormorants, with a requirement that states had to report the number and location of cormorants killed each year. To fulfill the federal reporting requirement, TPWD must require permit holders to report cormorant control data, hence the need for a Texas permitting system.

The department estimates there may be around 2,000 cormorant-control permits issued in Texas in the first year. Permits would cost $12 and would allow holders to kill cormorants on specific tracts of land near private water bodies such as ranch stock tanks or aquaculture facilities (fish farms). This addresses one of the key concerns-landowners and aquaculture managers trying to raise fish, only to see cormorants eat them. Large reservoirs, rivers and other public water bodies would not be covered by the proposal.

The double-crested cormorant is a long-necked, long-lived waterbird that nests in colonies, meaning they tend to congregate in one area where present. Federal biologists estimate there are 2 million double-crested cormorants in the U.S., mostly breeding in Canada and the Great Lakes, making it the most abundant of six cormorant species in North America. Cormorant numbers have increased by an estimated 7.5 percent per year since 1975. The birds eat mainly fish, up to one pound per day, usually smaller (less than six inch) bottom-dwelling school or "forage" fish.

Federal authorities say more study is needed to verify how cormorants affect fish populations, which fluctuate based on water quality, habitat and other factors. However, recent research at Oneida Lake in New York and eastern Lake Ontario suggests that cormorants can diminish the number of fish of catchable-size available to anglers.

Double-crested cormorants are one of about 800 bird species protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it a crime to kill them, but gives federal biologists the authority to issue depredation control permits

The Texas cormorant control proposal would not apply to several similar birds, including Gulf-coast natives such as the neotropic cormorant, the anhinga and other fish-eating birds such as kingfishers, cranes and herons.

After the proposal runs in the Texas Register for public comment, the TPW Commission will vote on implementing it at the commission’s Aug. 26 meeting.

Public comments about the proposal may be sent to John Herron, TPWD wildlife diversity program manager,; or Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744.