Senator, USDA Officials Agree Existing Loss Relief Programs Must Change to Address Bird Depredation

020923 Catfish 
VIDEO:  Senator Hyde-Smith Addresses ELAP Inadequacies at 2023 Farm Bill Hearing.
VIDEO:  Senator Hyde-Smith’s Exchange with USDA Witnesses.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) on Thursday received commitments from U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to work with her on changing assistance programs that now offer few options for catfish producers to recover losses caused by bird depredation.

Hyde-Smith highlighted the issue during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing titled, Farm Bill 2023:  Commodity Programs, Crop Insurance, and Credit.  The Senator advocated for Farm Bill changes that would make programs like the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) more responsive for the millions of dollars lost annually by catfish producers because of bird depredation.

Unfortunately catfish producers are not eligible for any of these losses under ELAP or any other USDA Disaster program for that matter.  They just have to take the losses. And this is a genuine crop loss here that's out of their control,” Hyde-Smith said.  “I would certainly consider losing $1 million worth of fish in a short amount of time or spending tens of thousands of dollars to scare birds an obvious disaster to these farmers.”

“I would love to amend ELAP in the 2023 Farm Bill to address the issue,” she continued.  “I want to be sure that any changes made to ELAP work and are easily implemented by USDA.  We have a really major problem with this.”

Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, and Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux committed to provide Hyde-Smith and the committee with technical assistance and feedback to try to aid the catfish industry, which is primarily based in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama.

“We do have some challenges with those particular causes of loss under the program, but absolutely we’d love to work with your staff to help get to some solutions that work better for your producers,” Ducheneaux said.  “The barrier or the bar against assisting where it's a depredation issue, we use our LIP [Livestock Indemnity Program] program for depredation issues.  So there's maybe a little bit of a confluence of programing that needs to happen there in order for us to really meet that need.”

Hyde-Smith considers the 2023 Farm Bill an opportunity to fix a program she has been trying to correct for years, including adding directives to agriculture appropriations measures.  She has been critical of the lack of progress by USDA in following those congressional directives to modify regulations to make farm-raised fish producers eligible for death losses under ELAP and to also deem bird depredation and disease as eligible loss conditions.

A two-year study issued in 2020 showed that the value of catfish losses from cormorants averaged $47.2 million industry-wide (ranging from $25.8 million to $65.4 million) annually, and that the total direct economic effects, including both the increased costs to scare birds and the revenue lost from fish consumed by cormorants despite bird-scaring attempts, averaged $64.7 million (ranging from $33.5 million to $92.6 million) annually.