Defining Economic Impacts and Developing Strategies for Reducing Avian Predation in Aquaculture Systems
Research ProjectMuch of the catfish served in the United States was probably grown in an aquaculture facility instead of being caught from rivers or lakes. Aquaculture, the commercial production of fish and shellfish for food, is an increasingly important type of agriculture, especially in the southeastern United States. Unfortunately, fish-eating birds such as American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, and great egrets are attracted to the open-water facilities found in aquaculture areas. These birds feed upon fish, shellfish, and crayfish produced in aquaculture facilities, often causing significant losses. In fact, cormorants eat more than $5 million worth of catfish each year in Mississippi alone.
Because of the extensive losses suffered by aquacultural producers, the National Wildlife Research Center established a field station in Starkville, Mississippi, in 1988 to research not only the economic impacts but the hows and whys of bird predation and how to minimize or prevent it. NWRC scientists with the aquaculture research project study captive and free-ranging birds to better understand what conditions or behaviors influence predation rates. For example scientists are looking at bird foraging patterns, bird population distributions, preferred prey size, and a host of other factors that may influence how much product is lost to bird predators. Additional studies are looking at the role that birds play in transmission of catfish parasites. Ultimately, all of these studies should provide data that will promote innovative approaches to reducing bird predation impacts on aquaculture.