Industrial fisheries are starving seabirds all around the world

December 6, 2018, University of British Columbia
Seabird-fishery competition across the world. Credit: University of British Columbia.

Industrial fisheries are starving seabirds like penguins and terns by competing for the same prey sources, new research from the French National Center for Scientific Research in Montpellier and the Sea Around Us initiative at the University of British Columbia has found.

In a study published today in Current Biology, researchers found that annual seabird food consumption decreased from 70 to 57 million tonnes between 1970 and 2010. Meanwhile, fisheries increased their catches of potential seabird prey from an average of 59 million tonnes in the 1970s and 80s to 65 million tonnes per year in recent years.

"Fisheries persist in starving a vanishing seabird community, like a boa tightening its grip on prey," said David Grémillet, lead author of the study and a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research. "Despite the fact that the world's seabird community is shrinking, the level of competition between seabirds and fisheries remained the same between the 1970-1980s and 1990-2000s."

This diminished is putting seabirds at risk—making them the most threatened bird group—with a 70 per cent community-level population decline in the past seven decades.

"Since the 1970s and 80s, we've lost a quarter of all penguins and nearly half of the terns and frigatebirds," said Grémillet. "Meanwhile, seabird-fishery competition continues to increase in areas such as the Asian shelves, Mediterranean Sea, Norwegian Sea and the Californian coast."

African penguins are facing extinction. Credit: David Grémillet.

The researchers mapped where seabirds caught their prey, calculated how much and what they consume based on what is known about their diets and caloric intake, and compared that information against the Sea Around Us initiative's global maps of fisheries catches of species targeted by both seabirds and fishing boats.

"In total, we analysed the behaviour of one billion individual seabirds across four decades, which is about 60 per cent of the world's seabird population," said Deng Palomares, co-author of the study and the Sea Around Us project manager at the University of British Columbia's Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries. "Those that feed on squid, Antarctic krill and small 'mid-water' fish such as herrings and sardines are suffering the most."

Palomares explained that urgent action is needed because not only are seabirds starving to death as they engage in for food with massive vessels, but they are also getting tangled in fishing gears and on the large amounts of plastic waste floating on the world's oceans.

"On top of this, they are threatened by oil pollution, the introduction of non-native predators to their colonies, the destruction and changes to their habitats by human activity and environmental and ecological changes caused by climate change. If we don't do anything, populations are going to collapse," the Sea Around Us researcher said.

Explore further: Dramatic change in seabirds' winter food source over past 30 years

More information: The paper "Persisting worldwide seabird-fishery competition despite seabird community decline" was published today in Current Biology.

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9 comments

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Bongstar420
1 / 5 (1) Dec 06, 2018
...so people should go hungry instead?

Make the ecosystem argument on how the fish need the birds so we can harvest the fish. Clearly please.

I don't eat fish btw. Am allergic to things like shrimp

I'm still not getting why when they go about this and that being damaged, no one explains what the damage is. Ecosystem changes are irrelevant unless they result in us not getting what we want. Acting like anything but our opinion matters here is asinine. There are no other opinions. The ecosystem does not care about you as it is not capable of being conscious.
Ojorf
5 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2018
Screwing the fish and the birds in the short term could lead to disaster in the long term.
It's because we are not living renewably. We are using up resources MUCH faster than they can replenish.

Ecosystem changes are irrelevant unless they result in us not getting what we want.

Gosh, how selfish and short sighted.

F*ing up the ecosystem will always result in us not getting what we want.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Dec 07, 2018
First it costs money, then it costs food, then the lynch mobs come out of the cities. Better hold onto them guns, you might get a few before they string you up.
granville583762
not rated yet Dec 07, 2018
We are doomed, doomed and thrice doomed

As the carbon dioxide diminishes
as the fish life diminish
the plant life die and shrivel
we over fish
increasing decline
the sequestration further declines the declining carbon dioxide
as we stop burning fossil fuels
preventing replenishing of billions years of sequestered coal seams
as the plants sequester
the diminishing carbon dioxide
we are doomed
doomed and thrice doomed
it is ridiculous
that
nature
relies
on the carbon cycle
on a diminishing supply of an essential element
as carbon dioxide
at just over 1% billions of years ago
that fell to 0.04%
is now 0.03%
if this dire state of affairs
is not corrected
when we stop burning fossil fuels
We are doomed, doomed and thrice doomed
granville583762
not rated yet Dec 07, 2018
With the small amount of fish the penguins eat
considering the vast distances they travel
if there numbers are reducing
and so are the fish
why are we fishing in these numbers
there will come a time
it will not be penguins diminishing
But the fishers of fish
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Dec 07, 2018
The solution: harvest sea birds for food. Turn them into surimi. Nobody will know the difference.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Dec 07, 2018
Or reduce the growth rate of human populations. Drastically. This is the only real solution for most of the problems that currently plague us.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2018
First it costs money, then it costs food, then the lynch mobs come out of the cities. Better hold onto them guns, you might get a few before they string you up.

The Da Snob jackass brays again.
This is the jackass who boasted about his meat eating habit and further proclaimed that he had no intention of changing. And, he did this when commenting on a study that showed the meat industry was one of the biggest GHGs emitters.

Better bray like a jackass at the heretics. That'll will save the world.
retrosurf
not rated yet Dec 08, 2018
Seabirds transport nitrogen from regions that are nitrogen-rich (feeding grounds) to regions that are not (flyover paths). Google up "seabird nitrogen transport" and you'll see some utility. Clear enough?

The ecosystem is conscious, BongStar420. I'm a part of it, and I'm conscious (I suppose here that you mean self-aware). I'm pretty sure whales are conscious. I'm pretty sure that elephants and orangutans and apes are conscious.

I don't think that consciousness or its opinions have anything to do with the justification that you demand regarding the utility of seabirds to man: that's just muddled thinking, conflating the importance of consciousness with utility to a species.

More directly, I think your demand for an argument of how seabirds contribute to fish harvests is myopic, at best. Ecosystem relations are generally more complicated than that. Your oversimplification is likely to disqualify relationships that have important economic consequences.

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