Changes in fisheries discard rates and seabird communities

Stephen Votier, Robert Furness, Stuart Bearhop, Jonathon Crane, Richard Caldow, Paulo Catry, Kenny Ensor, Keith Hamer, Anne Hudson, Ellen Kalmbach, Nicholas Klomp, Simone Pfeiffer, Richard Phillips, Isabel Prieto, David Thompson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    207 Citations (Scopus)


    It is clear that discards from commercial fisheries are a key food resource for many seabird species around the world1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. But predicting the response of seabird communities to changes in discard rates is problematic and requires historical data to elucidate the confounding effects of other, more 'natural' ecological processes. In the North Sea, declining stocks, changes in technical measures, changes in population structure9 and the establishment of a recovery programme for cod (Gadus morhua10) will alter the amount of fish discarded. This region also supports internationally important populations of seabirds11, some of which feed extensively, but facultatively, on discards, in particular on undersized haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) and whiting (Merlangius merlangus)1, 2, 3. Here we use long-term data sets from the northern North Sea to show that there is a direct link between discard availability and discard use by a generalist predator and scavenger'the great skua (Stercorarius skua). Reduced rates of discarding, particularly when coupled with reduced availability of small shoaling pelagic fish such as sandeel (Ammodytes marinus), result in an increase in predation by great skuas on other birds. This switching of prey by a facultative scavenger presents a potentially serious threat to some seabird communities.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)727-730
    Number of pages4
    Issue number6976
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


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