Kibbutz Reshafim, 10905, Israel -

Whose fish are they anyway?

flying_pelicans We have always had migratory birds flying overhead in spring and autumn, the storks being among the most popular. They used to rest on our fields and even if occasionally the fishermen thought that they took more than their fair share of our fish and shot a few of them (a practice frowned upon by many of us), they were never a serious problem.
pelicans This changed drastically when pelicans decided that they liked our fish better than anybody else's.The first time we saw pelicans flying overhead towards Africa, we were glad to see them. Here you had an endangered animal which had found a safe passage through a region not known for its respect of animal (or anybody's) rights. Fondness might be the proper word to describe our feelings towards them. They'd probably eat some of our fish, but we would be able to spare a few. How wrong we were. Three years after the first few pelicans had flown south, we had thousands of them expecting free breakfast, lunch and supper. Some of them even decided not to fly to Africa, but spend winter right here fishing our ponds.
cormorant The problem grew worse, when the equally protected cormorants joined them. Gas cannon emitting loud noises were used to get rid of them, but the birds got used to them in a very short time. Observers were stationed on the near-by Gilboa mountain directing patrols to where pelicans were landing, who chased them away using sirens and occasionally gun fire. When they started feeding at night, revolving lights proved effective for a while.

In the end the only solution was to prevent them from coming near the ponds in the first place and diverting them to a safe route east or west of the fish growing regions. We've been doing that for a few years now, with some success, but our wonder at the sight of the migrating pelicans has been marred forever.

The fisheries are an important sector of our and our neighbours economic life. We have to buy the water to fill the artificial ponds, we buy the fry or grow them ourselves, feed them, medicate them and aerate them. All this doesn't come cheap, a fact nature lovers don't always appreciate, and the attitude of the authorities has been cavalier to say the least.
A pelican can eat three to five kilos of fish a day, flocks count hundreds, sometimes thousands of individuals. The price of 1kg of fish is about US$4. In half an hour they can empty a pond, causing damage amounting to thousands of dollars. The cormorants' influence is possibly even more insidious. Apart from eating fish they are hosts to a tiny worm which affects many fish species, thus rendering them inedible.


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Updated January 2000