When Can You Shoot Cormorants?

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Key Takeaways

  • Cormorants are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and require authorization for legal killing.
  • Sharpshooting and issuing hunting permits are common culling methods employed.
  • Aquaculture producers can shoot birds on private ponds in some states.
  • Federal and state wildlife managers can cull cormorants threatening resources.
  • Regulations vary by location so check with authorities before taking action.

The double-crested cormorant is a large black aquatic bird found across North America. While a natural part of many ecosystems, cormorants sometimes come into conflict with human interests like commercial fishing and aquaculture. Their voracious appetites and nesting behaviors can negatively impact fish stocks and habitats. This leads to the controversial question – when can you legally shoot cormorants?

This comprehensive article will analyze the regulations, methods, and justifications around culling cormorant populations. Key federal laws, management programs, and location-specific rules will be explored. The techniques and procedures utilized for sharpshooting and egg oiling will be detailed. The impacts of cormorants on wild fish populations and aquaculture, and the effectiveness of control efforts will be evaluated. Overall, the article aims to provide a thorough understanding of the complex issues surrounding lethal control of cormorants.

Equipped with this information, fishery managers, wildlife officials, aquaculture producers, and concerned citizens will better grasp the legal, ethical, and ecological considerations of cormorant shooting and population control. Killing any wild animal is a serious matter warranting careful examination. By delving into the science, regulations, and debate around cormorants, readers will make better-informed decisions regarding these remarkable but often problematic birds.

Federal Laws and Programs

What federal laws protect cormorants?

Like all migratory birds, cormorants are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This act makes it illegal to pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill birds listed therein without authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The USFWS can issue permits for limited culling of cormorants for specific purposes.

How does the federal aquaculture depredation order allow cormorant killing?

In 1998, the USFWS established the aquaculture depredation order which allows aquaculture producers in 13 states to shoot double-crested cormorants without a permit if the birds are directly feeding on their stocks. The 13 states are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. This provides a legal means of minimizing losses for fish-farmers.

What is the role of federal wildlife managers?

Federal wildlife managers from the USFWS can kill cormorants through shooting and egg oiling to protect public resources like wild fish, plants, and habitats. Authorized agents are permitted to take cormorants non-lethally or lethally in 24 states under the Public Resource Depredation Order.

State and Local Regulations

Can I shoot cormorants on my private property?

Shooting cormorants on private land is only legal under certain circumstances. Aquaculture producers may do so in the 13 states covered by the federal depredation order if birds are feeding on stocks. Some states also allow lethal control if justified as harming other wildlife or resources. Always check state and local laws first.

When can I kill cormorants while hunting?

Several states such as South Carolina and Michigan have a cormorant hunting season allowing properly licensed hunters to take a set number of birds. Limits, dates, and requirements vary so consult your state’s hunting regulations. Outside of designated seasons, permits are usually required for lethal control.

Who decides on culling operations?

State wildlife agencies ultimately make decisions on cormorant control operations within their jurisdictions. Local managers develop site-specific plans which are approved by USFWS and state officials. Many factors like location, timing, and non-lethal options are considered.

Control Methods and Procedures

What are some common techniques for culling cormorants?

Shooting is the most immediately effective and widely used culling technique. Sharpshooters may be hired or permits issued to hunters. Other methods include egg oiling, nest destruction, live capture, and reinforcement of non-lethal harassment. Combinations are often most successful.

How are cormorants shot during control operations?

Cormorants can be shot on the water, while flying, or at breeding sites by authorized personnel. 12-gauge shotguns with steel pellets are generally used at close range. Sharpshooters also utilize rifles for longer distance shooting. Proper training and safety protocols are critical.

What does the egg oiling process involve?

Oiling eggs prevents them from hatching but allows parents to continue incubating. A small amount of food grade corn or mineral oil is applied on eggs during nesting season. Teams access breeding sites by boat or land. The process is repeated at regular intervals to maximize effectiveness.

Can nests and eggs be directly destroyed?

Yes, nests may be dismantled and eggs can be punctured, frozen, or removed for humane disposal. This is more labor-intensive and could lead to nest abandonment. Oiling is less disruptive while still preventing reproduction. USFWS permission is required.

Impacts and Effectiveness

How much damage do cormorants cause to commercial fish stocks?

Research indicates cormorants consume millions of pounds of commercially valuable fish annually. One study estimated losses of $25 million to the catfish farming industry in Mississippi alone. They can negatively impact both wild and farm-raised stocks.

Do cormorants pose threats to other wildlife?

Cormorants compete for fish resources with loons, grebes, herons, and other waterbirds. Their presence has been linked to colony abandonment and reduced reproduction in black-crowned night herons, for example. Culling near sensitive nesting areas may help other species.

Are control programs effective at reducing problems?

Culling provides localized, short-term reductions in cormorant abundance and associated damage. Studies show targeted removals combined with harassment can minimize predation impacts on catfish farms and sensitive wild fish. Effects are temporary since populations quickly rebound.

What are some concerns regarding cormorant control?

Killing native species raises environmental and ethical issues. It is difficult to quantify cascading ecological effects. There are also concerns over localized extirpations and inhumaneness of control methods. More research is needed on long-term impacts of management programs.


The regulations around killing cormorants are complex, often permitting lethal control but requiring oversight and authorization. While shooting is frequently used to limit localized conflicts, effects on regional populations are minimal. A comprehensive management strategy using integrated non-lethal techniques may be required to find an acceptable balance. However, the biological, economic, and ethical debates surrounding cormorant control will likely continue.

This article has explored the multifaceted issues that arise when considering lethal control of avian predators like cormorants. Their protection status limits, but does not prohibit, killing in certain circumstances. Check current federal, state, and local laws before taking any action. With proper oversight, limited culling might have a role in sustainable management, but should be used judiciously. Promoting healthy ecosystems where humans and wildlife coexist is the ultimate goal.

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