Brandi Klingerman | March 6, 2019
In the United States, the Great Salt Lake in Utah is home to a multimillion dollar brine shrimp industry, which collects and sells the brine shrimp cysts, or eggs, as a food source for prawn farming around the world. However, the GSL and brine shrimp are also a key resource for waterbirds during migration and nesting. To balance the needs of the animals and the industry that rely on brine shrimp cysts, a University of Notre Dame researcher and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) completed a study over 20 years to evaluate and improve management of the GSL.
In the 1990s, concerns emerged about how the harvesting of brine shrimp cysts was affecting the needs of waterbirds that annually utilize the GSL. In 1992, the State of Utah began requiring harvesters to purchase a license to better monitor the industry. Then, just four years later, a formal harvest management system was finally put into place after an emergency closure of the cyst harvest season, which was necessary to protect the lake’s ecological system.
“I began studying the GSL in 1994 with the UDWR before any harvesting limitations had been set,” said Gary Belovsky, Gillen Director of the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center and professor of biological sciences. “Due to our timing and expertise, our research team had a unique opportunity to develop a management strategy, see it eventually implemented through policy, and realize the benefits of adaptive management to conservation and industry in real-time.”
Belovsky and W. Clay Perschon from the UDWR were tasked with monitoring the GSL and collecting data about the ecology of the lake, its inhabitants, and the waterbirds that rely on it. Nearly a third of all western birds in the United States nest or migrate through the GSL, including more than two-thirds of the Eared Grebe bird population, which primarily eat brine shrimp.
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