Balancing shorebird conservation and shellfish harvesting in UK estuaries

Authors: Stillman, R.A. and Wood, K.A.

Editors: Redpath, S.M., Gutierrez, R.J. and Young, J.C.

Pages: 209-211

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

ISBN: 9781107603462

The intertidal areas of UK coasts are important habitats for shellfish species, such as cockles (Cerastoderma edule) and mussels (Mytilus edulis). Commercial harvesting of shellfish is worth an annual £250 million to the UK economy, providing both food and employment (DEFRA, 2013). These shellfish are also the principal food resource for overwintering shorebirds such as oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) and knots (Calidris canutus). Shorebirds are key components of UK coastal biodiversity and are protected under the European Union Wild Birds Directive (2009/147/EEC), which legally obligates the UK government to maintain healthy shorebird populations. Thus, many estuaries have been designated estuarine Special Protection Areas (SPAs) which must be managed to sustain overwintering shorebird populations. Additionally, shorebirds are popular with bird watchers and, therefore, benefit tourism in coastal areas. Thus, a conflict has occurred since the 1970s between those desiring to conserve shorebirds and those desiring to harvest shellfish commercially (Tinker, 1974). On one side, conservationists and bird watchers want strict limits to be placed on shellfish harvesting and disturbance in order to protect the birds. On the other side, the fisherman and their representatives want to maximise shellfish harvesting. Statutory authority for the management of estuarine fisheries, and, thus, the responsibility for conflict resolution, is held by local government organisations.

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