In February, four animal rights groups filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Agriculture in an attempt to prevent new rules for killing the double-crested cormorant (a fish eating bird) from going into effect.
The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, Defenders of Wildlife, the Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States filed the lawsuit to overturn a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruling to allow state, federal and tribal officials in 24 states to kill cormorants in order to prevent the birds from killing too many fish.
In the 1960s and 1970s the cormorant was threatened. Since 1972, cormorants have been protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cannot be killed without the approval of the federal government. In the intervening years, the cormorant recovered and thrived to the point where fisherman and owners of fish farms complain that the cormorant is cause a significant decline in fish populations in many parts of the country.
In a press release announcing its lawsuit, the groups said,
The recent decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allow state fish and wildlife agencies, Indian tribes, and USDA agents to kill unlimited numbers of cormorants — in 24 states where the birds are allegedly depleting fish stocks for sport fishing, and in 13 states where they are said to impact commercial fish farms — without any restrictions on time of year or location of the killings, and without showing any specific, localized harm caused by the birds. The government’s decision also allows, for the first time, killing of cormorants at the birds’ winter nesting sites by shooting, gassing, and breaking their necks, as well as destroying their nests and eggs.
The organizations filing the suit — The Fund for Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida — point to studies indicating that the amount of fish eaten by cormorants represents only a small fraction of fish productivity, and suggesting that fish-eating birds like cormorants tend to eat diseased or dying fish because they are easier to catch, and therefore play a beneficial role at fish farms by decreasing the potential spread of disease. The FWS itself has flatly conceded that “commercially and recreationally valuable fish do not generally make up a large proportion of [cormorants’] diet.”
The oddest statement from the group came from The Fund for Animals president Mark Markarian who offered this interesting defense of hunting,
Cormorants, like many other birds, eat fish to survive, and should not be punished for doing what comes naturally. Writing a blank check to kill tens of thousands of protected birds at any time and any place is an extreme knee-jerk reaction to placate the sport fishing and commercial fish farming industries.
Why couldn’t the cormorants just learn to switch to a vegan diet? And why is The Fund not so understanding when humans just do what comes naturally and hunt/fish for food?
The full text of the lawsuit can be read here (97kb PDF).
Federal lawsuit filed to stop mass killing of double-crested cormorants. Fund for Animals, Press Release, February 5, 2004.
Animal group sues over cormorants killing. Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press, February 6, 2004.