Cormorant FAQs

Q: What is a Cormorant?

A: The double-crested cormorant is a goose-sized water bird native to North America. It is one of six species of cormorants in North America and one of 38 species worldwide. This black or grayish-black bird is about three feet long with a wingspan of 4.5 feet and has a hooked bill and powerful webbed feet that are used for swimming underwater. An adult weighs about five pounds.

Q: Are Cormorants Protected?

A: Yes, Double-crested cormorants are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Q: What do Cormorants Eat?

A: Cormorants eat mainly fish. Adults eat an average of one pound per day. The birds are opportunistic and generalist feeders, preying on many species of fish, but concentrating on those that are easiest to catch.

Q: What control options are available?

A: The Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits the killing or harming of double-crested cormorants without prior authorization by the FWS. Depredation permits are provided to individuals, private organizations, and other federal and state agencies on a case-by-case basis for the lethal control of problem birds. In contrast, a Depredation Order establishes conditions in regulations under which specified entities or individuals can take a protected species without obtaining an individual depredation permit.

Q: Why can we not kill them without permits now?

A: On May 25, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated two depredation orders—the Aquaculture Depredation Order and the Public Resource Depredation Order—for double-crested cormorants until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) prepares an adequate Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in compliance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Court concluded that the Service did not take a “hard look” at the effects of the depredation orders on double-crested cormorant populations and other affected resources and failed to consider a reasonable range of alternatives in the EA issued in 2014.

Q: How do we get Permitted?

A: On November 15, 2017, the Service released an environmental assessment (Attachment below) that evaluated options for issuing individual depredation permits to lethally control double-crested cormorants while ensuring the long-term health of the cormorant population. Once published in the Federal Register, aquaculture facility managers and property owners across 37 central and eastern states and the District of Columbia are able to apply for individual permits for lethal take of double-crested cormorants.

The assessment analyzed options for authorizing lethal control to reduce: health and human safety risks, damage to aquaculture facilities, impacts to federally-listed threatened or endangered species, and damage to property (i.e., buildings and infrastructure, vehicles and equipment and native vegetation). It provides a strong biological foundation to ensure cormorant populations are managed responsibly and in compliance with federal laws and regulations, while balancing economic development, human health and safety, endangered species management and other priorities.

Given the allowable take provided for in the assessment, the Service is implementing a number of steps to make sure we do not exceed the allowable take including prioritizing the take based on the type of damages when allocating take: (1) human health and safety, (2) aquaculture, (3) federally listed threatened and endangered species, and (4) property.

The environmental assessment caps the number of cormorants that can be lethally taken in each flyway annually:

  • Atlantic: 11,634
  • Florida: 211
  • Mississippi and Central: 39,726
  • Total: 51,571

Aquaculture producers across the Southeast are now able to apply for individual depredation permits for lethal take of double-crested cormorants.