IJMS Themed Set - Impacts of fishing on seabirds

The most recent themed set in ICES Journal of Marine Science explores the impacts of the fishing industry on seabirds, highlighting critical challenges and proposing solutions.
Published: 28 November 2023

​​​​​Led by Steve Votier (Heriot-Watt University, UK), this collection of four papers and the introductory article in ICES Journal of Marine Science systematically investigates the diverse impacts of fishing practices on seabirds, encompassing themes such as illegal fishing, offshore renewables, and bycatch. The papers underscore a dedicated commitment to understanding and preserving the balance between marine ecosystems and human activities.

Seabirds as sentinels
Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, operating beyond legal boundaries, poses a significant danger to marine biodiversity. Votier emphasizes the urgency of quantifying and counteracting these illicit activities. "Despite decades of research on the impact of fishing on seabirds, it remains one of the biggest threats to their future diversity and sustainability," Votier notes.

Utilizing seabirds as "sentinels," researchers employ cutting-edge technology to monitor IUU fishing. Albatrosses, equipped with GPS and radar loggers, provide invaluable insights into the scale and impact of these activities.

"The most celebrated example is where albatrosses were fitted with combined GPS and radar loggers that provided geo-referenced information on vessel interactions in the Southern Ocean. These data are valuable, but by combining them with vessel location from AIS, it’s possible to determine whether vessels are operating with their AIS illegally switched off. It turns out that up to a third of vessels were operating without AIS in international waters, although this value was lower around exclusive economic zones (EEZs)," Votier explains. “Work has also used cameras on gannets to reveal vessel interactions in detail (such as fish species being discarded). Although this has not yet been used to formally investigate IUU fishing, the potential is clear.”

Expanding fishing industry and offshore renewables
As the fishing industry extends into new areas, such as the deep sea and mesopelagic zones, potential ecosystem consequences for seabirds loom large. Careful management is essential to prevent adverse impacts, including the threat of lost or discarded fishing gear.

Offshore renewable energy sources, like wind farms, may offer benefits and challenges. Striking the right balance between conservation, fishing, and energy generation is crucial.

"We should consider how we can reduce collisions either by closing operations during high-risk periods or by making turbine blades more visible and most fundamentally by making sure wind farms are appropriately located," Votier suggests.

Addressing deliberate harm to seabirds
The themed set highlights the deliberate harm inflicted on seabirds during fishing activities. Strategies to reduce such harm face challenges, requiring a necessary cultural shift within the fishing community.

"Reducing the deliberate harm of seabirds requires a system of on-board monitoring, penalties, and changing fishing practices," Votier outlines.

Understanding impacts on seabirds throughout the year
Research on fisheries impacts has predominantly focused on breeding periods. The themed set emphasizes the need for a broader perspective, considering other life stages and annual cycle periods vital for seabird populations.

Despite representing half of the global fishing effort, little is known about the scale or impacts of recreational or artisanal fishing on seabirds. The themed set calls for more research to understand these challenges better.

A call for action to protect seabirds
The themed set concludes by emphasizing the imperative to address the challenges facing seabirds due to fishing practices. The fishing industry heavily relies on the ecosystem services provided by these birds, and to reverse declining seabird populations, it is vital to minimize the impacts of fishing.

"We have the know-how, the people, but our society has to value seabirds enough to want to make a long-term investment in them," Votier concludes.

Read all submitted articles in ICES Journal of Marine Science's latest themed set, Impacts of fishing on seabirds.​

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​​Cartoon: Bas Köhler. ​Click to enlarge.​​​​​​​​

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IJMS Themed Set - Impacts of fishing on seabirds

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