Nets Over Fish Ponds Prove Fatal to Thousands of Birds

The sad sight of birds getting caught in the nets covering fish hatcheries is becoming increasingly common. Thousands of birds die this way every year, says the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel.

Environmental groups and fish farmers have tried various methods over the years to stop birds from diving into fish ponds for their prey, virtually everything short of killing them.

The latest effort of stretching nets over the ponds has also failed to produce satisfactory results. For now, farmers and environmental organizations have yet to reach a consensus on alternative measures to obviate the need for nets.

Dan Alon, who heads the SPNI bird-watching department, says more than 3,000 birds die annually after getting caught in the nets. "Some of the birds don't do harm at all to the hatcheries, and some are extremely rare, like the Martial Eagle and Black Stork." Alon says recently nets with smaller holes have been used so the birds are in less danger, but this only helps some of them.

Other aquaculture schemes to keep birds away include producing loud noises from gas-powered cannon or firing at birds to scare them off.

Alon says the time has come for a drastic change in policy and putting a stop to all efforts at either scaring the winged creatures or keeping them away.

"We have to pursue a new direction, and that is giving compensation to farmers beforehand for damage," he says. "Special ponds must also be created containing food for the birds; then they will stop coming to the hatcheries."

Amitai Geva, an Agriculture Ministry fish farming expert, says one particular species, the Great Cormorant, is involved in more than 90 percent of the cases of birds getting caught in the nets. "If we knew how to distance them, I believe the farmers will be able to remove the nets," he says.

However, Geva says the SPNI and other green organizations like it are unlikely to change their policies anytime soon. "They want to see the cormorants in nature. They always know how to say what needs to be done, but not to offer solutions," he says.