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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e57376. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057376. Epub 2013 Mar 6.

A bird's eye view of discard reforms: bird-borne cameras reveal seabird/fishery interactions.

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Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, United Kingdom.


Commercial capture fisheries produce huge quantities of offal, as well as undersized and unwanted catch in the form of discards. Declines in global catches and legislation to ban discarding will significantly reduce discards, but this subsidy supports a large scavenger community. Understanding the potential impact of declining discards for scavengers should feature in an eco-system based approach to fisheries management, but requires greater knowledge of scavenger/fishery interactions. Here we use bird-borne cameras, in tandem with GPS loggers, to provide a unique view of seabird/fishery interactions. 20,643 digital images (one min(-1)) from ten bird-borne cameras deployed on central place northern gannets Morus bassanus revealed that all birds photographed fishing vessels. These were large (>15 m) boats, with no small-scale vessels. Virtually all vessels were trawlers, and gannets were almost always accompanied by other scavenging birds. All individuals exhibited an Area-Restricted Search (ARS) during foraging, but only 42% of ARS were associated with fishing vessels, indicating much 'natural' foraging. The proportion of ARS behaviours associated with fishing boats were higher for males (81%) than females (30%), although the reasons for this are currently unclear. Our study illustrates that fisheries form a very important component of the prey-landscape for foraging gannets and that a discard ban, such as that proposed under reforms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, may have a significant impact on gannet behaviour, particularly males. However, a continued reliance on 'natural' foraging suggests the ability to switch away from scavenging, but only if there is sufficient food to meet their needs in the absence of a discard subsidy.

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