Are cultivated shellfish plots a net benefit or cost for the fragile shorebirds of Yalu Jiang?

Report by Jan van Gils (Royal NIOZ Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, The Netherlands) and Jort van Gils – 25 April 2017:

Every spring, many but a declining number of shorebirds make use of Yalu Jiang as a stopover on their way from Australia and New Zealand to their Siberian and Alaskan breeding grounds (mainly Great Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, each at an estimated number of 30,000 individuals).

There is a conflict of interest with local fishermen that grow bivalves (Mactra veneriformis) that they have ‘planted’ in the mudflats, and that will be harvested when the bivalves have attained the right size for human consumption. Not surprisingly, these rich food patches attract fueling shorebirds, triggering the fishermen to use fireworks to keep the birds away from their plots. A dozen of men guard these plots, firing at irregular times, up to 30 shots per hour.

Yalu Jiang_Jort van Gils
A fisherman using firework to chase off Great Knots and Bar-tailed Godwits from ‘his’ field of cultivated bivalves, Yalu Jiang, northern China, 25 April 2017. Photo: Jort van Gils

It is an unsolved, but intriguing question whether the cultivated high-density plots and the disturbance by fireworks form a net benefit or cost for these fragile birds. A question that requires an answer given that knots and godwits are protected species and Yalu Jiang is a protected nature reserve.

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