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Ecol Appl. 2010 Dec;20(8):2223-36.

Estimating the impacts of fishing on dependent predators: a case study in the California Current.

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Fisheries Ecology Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, 110 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, California 95060, USA.


Juvenile rockfish (Sebastes spp.) are important prey to seabirds in the California Current System, particularly during the breeding season. Both seabird breeding success and the abundance of pelagic juvenile rockfish show high interannual variability. This covariation is largely a response to variable ocean conditions; however, fishing on adult rockfish may have had consequences for seabird productivity (e.g., the number of chicks fledged per breeding pair) by reducing the availability of juvenile rockfish to provisioning seabird parents. We tested the hypothesis that fishing has decreased juvenile rockfish availability and thereby limited seabird productivity over the past 30 years. We quantified relationships between observed juvenile rockfish relative abundance and seabird productivity, used fisheries stock assessment approaches to estimate the relative abundance of juvenile rockfish in the absence of fishing, and compared the differences in seabird productivity that would have resulted without rockfish fisheries. We examined the abundance of juvenile rockfish and the corresponding productivity of three seabird species breeding on Southeast Farallon Island (near San Francisco, California, USA) from the early 1980s to the present. Results show that while the relative abundance of juvenile rockfish has declined to approximately 50% of the estimated unfished biomass, seabirds achieved 75-95% of the estimated un-impacted levels of productivity, depending upon the species of bird and various model assumptions. These results primarily reflect seabirds with "conservative" life histories (one egg laid per year) and may be different for species with more flexible life history strategies (greater reproductive effort). Our results are consistent with the premise that the impacts of local rockfish fisheries on seabird productivity are less than impacts that have occurred to the prey resources themselves due to ocean climate and the ability of seabirds to buffer against changes in prey availability through prey-switching and other behavioral mechanisms.

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