Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Gannet success story to end along with discards?
Seabird populations have plummeted in the UK over the last few decades, mostly due to the overfishing of fish like sandeels, a vital food species for many seabirds. There has been one exception to this depressing trend, the northern gannet.
The UK gannet population has doubled since 1970, from roughly 100,000 birds to well over 200,000 today (56% of the world's population). It is believed that the reason for this spectacular success is the horrendous EU fishing industry policy of discarding unwanted fish.
The gannet is unique amongst UK seabirds in that it can dive from a great height, plunge into the ocean and grab fish that other seabirds cannot reach. It is also a large seabird, allowing it to outcompete most other seabirds when scavenging or foraging. When fishing boats throw unwanted and undersized fish overboard the gannet is well placed to take advantage of this completely unnatural bounty. Gannets may have also come to see fishing boats that are discarding fish as a reliable source of food. Dr Hamer, from Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences thinks that "gannets have different aptitudes and specialities and for some, that skill might be finding and following fishing boats."
If as expected gannet numbers plummet after discarding is banned, the one European seabird success story of the last few years will be seen to be due to nothing more than human folly. The folly of overfishing and waste, which benefited one specialised species of seabird for a time, but saw the greatest decline in overall seabird numbers in human history.