Kibbutzim Sue Nature Authority for Letting Pelicans Eat Their Fish

State contends kibbutzim prevented it from keeping birds away from prey.

Yaron Kaminsky

Two kibbutzim are suing the Israel Nature and Parks Authority for 5 million shekels (about $1.3 million) in damages they say have been caused by pelicans eating their fish due to the nature authority’s negligence.

The authority told the Haifa District Court in response that the operators of the fisheries at the two northern coastal plain kibbutzim, Ma’agan Michael and Gan Shmuel, were the ones that thwarted action that would have kept the pelicans away from the fish ponds.

Thousands of pelicans reach Israel every year on their migration from Europe to Africa and feed on large quantities of fish from ponds belonging mainly to kibbutzim, causing heavy economic losses.

To deal with the problem, ahead of migration season, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority had begun to operate alternative ponds, which it stocks with fish that have been rejected for marketing. The pelicans feed from those ponds, reducing the damage to the commercial ponds.

Over the years, the nature authority has claimed that fish growers have shot and killed pelicans to keep them from coming near the ponds, which is against the law, as pelicans are a protected species both in Israel and globally according to international conventions to which Israel is obligated.

According to the suit, in the 2009–2010 season, the nature authority decided it would not establish the alternative ponds for the pelicans ahead of time in the coastal plain, but only if needed. For two weeks the pelicans landed in Israel and when they did not find the alternative ponds, they came to the ponds belonging to Ma’agan Michael and Gan Shmuel and consumed very large quantities of fish.

The kibbutzim said that experts they consulted disagree in principle over the usefulness of the alternative ponds, and say that the pelicans will eat there as well as from the commercial ponds.

The fish growers also claim in their suit that the nature authority exceeded its authority in rescinding permits that allowed people to fire in the air to scare off the pelicans. They also claimed that the authority refrained from using other means, such as light aircraft or various other means of scaring off the birds.

Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael is asking for 3.2 million shekels and Kibbutz Gan Shmuel for 1.9 million shekels.

The nature authority claimed in its defense that the kibbutzim prevented it from stocking alternative ponds by not providing the reject fish, although the authority was willing to buy the fish from them. According to the authority, it does not know why this was so, but it may have stemmed from the growers’ opposition in principle to the alternative feeding stations.

The nature authority also said it had not completely rescinded the permits, but required that live ammunition be replaced with more explosive ammunition that makes as much noise as the live kind, and that the directive to replace the ammunition came from the Environmental Protection Ministry and is legally binding. “It is unfortunate that the plaintiffs chose to file a suit based on a fictitious story whose connection to reality is in the imagination only of the plaintiffs,” the nature authority’s response stated.