First steps to harmony between gulls and mussel farms in France

© Pauline Loubat/ LPO
Gulls are considered responsible for production losses by mussel farmers and killed to keep them away from their farms. © Pauline Loubat/ LPO

The Atlantic coast of France (in particular the Charente-Maritime County) and its islands are hubs for the shellfish industry and mussel farms. Among these farms, some are found on the east coast of Oléron Island, within the Moeze-Oléron National Nature Reserve, close to nesting colonies of gulls, much to the farmers’ dismay. Mussel farmers in the county have been reporting production losses for several years, which they say is largely because of these seabirds.

According to a perception survey carried out in 2013, depradation by gulls, and especially by the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), is being held accountable for up to 30% of the production loss. As a result, farmers have developed techniques to scare gulls away, even practicing illegal shootings in order to use the gulls’ carcasses as scarecrows on the mussel farms.

To address the issue of depradation, LPO (BirdLife’s partner in France) came together with the shellfish industry regional committee (CRC Poitou Charentes), the Regional Center for Aquaculture Experimentation and Application (CREAA), and the mussel farmers’ union.

With the support of the French Marine Protected Areas Agency (AAMP), a study project was consequently launched in 2014 to provide solutions that are compatible with the conservation stakes. The LPO has been entrusted to explore the avian frequentation (species, age) and the birds’ use of the area (behaviour: resting, feeding), and the CREAA is responsible for evaluating the potential impact on production.

Current status of the study

  • The project now includes all the partners mentioned above in a steering committee under the aegis of the CRC, in charge of the project until 2017.
  • The field work began in April and will continue till September, with assistance from the staff of the Moeze-Oléron National Nature Reserve.
  • Volunteers among the mussel growers will take members of the LPO onboard to refine the observations of the birds’ behaviour on the mussel farms.
  • The LPO obtained approvals from the National Nature Reserve and the National Council for Nature Protection to experiment with visual deterrent methods, designed specifically for the seagulls. Three test periods are planned (June, July, August) to determine the most effective period to use these deterrent methods, depending on the presence of birds and the size of the mussels cultivated.

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