Industrial fishing turns birds to cannibalism
Environmental News Network
18th March 2004
Adapted by Suzanne Ubick and Kathleen M. Wong,
California Academy of Sciences
An international team of researchers says factory fishing is upsetting the natural balance of bird populations. While processing catches at sea, the factory ships dump tons of unwanted bycatch such as sandeels over the side.
Opportunistic seabirds known as great skuas now make most of their living on these discards.
The practice has simultaneously fuelled a boom in skua populations and a decline in their natural foods, sandeels, the researchers report in the journal Nature. Now reductions in fisheries waste have forced top predator skuas to hunt large numbers of other seabirds such as puffins, guillemots, black-legged kittiwakes, Leach's storm petrel, the European storm petrel, and the northern fulmar.
Of these, the black-legged kittiwake is most at risk; about one-third of kittiwake adults now end up as skua meals.
The researchers urge a total ban on discarding fish waste from ships. This would allow seabird populations to return to a more the natural balance, especially if coupled with aggressive sandeel conservation policies.