Scavenger communities and fisheries waste: North Sea discards support 3 million seabirds, 2 million fewer than in 1990

Richard B. Sherley, Hannah Ladd-Jones, Stefan Garthe, Olivia Stevenson, Stephen C. Votier

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39 Citations (Scopus)
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Every year fisheries discard >10 million tonnes of fish. This provides a bounty for scavengers, yet the ecological impact of discarding is understudied. Seabirds are the best-studied discard scavengers and fisheries have shaped their movement ecology, demography and community structure. However, we know little about the number of scavenging seabirds that discards support, how this varies over time or might change as stocks and policy change. Here, we use a Bayesian bioenergetics model to estimate the number of scavenging birds potentially supported by discards in the North Sea (one of the highest discard-producing regions) in 1990, around the peak of production, and again after discard declines in 2010. We estimate that North Sea discards declined by 48% from 509,840 tonnes in 1990 to 267,549 tonnes in 2010. This waste had the potential to support 5.66 (95% credible intervals: 3.33-9.74) million seabirds in the 1990s, declining by 39% to 3.45 (1.98-5.78) million birds by 2010. Our study reveals the potential for fishery discards to support very large scavenging seabird communities but also shows how this has declined over recent decades. Discard bans, like the European Union's Landing Obligation, may reduce inflated scavenger communities, but come against a backdrop of gradual declines potentially buffering deleterious impacts. More work is required to reduce uncertainty and to generate global estimates, but our study highlights the magnitude of scavenger communities potentially supported by discards and thus the importance of understanding the wider ecological consequences of dumping fisheries waste.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalFish and Fisheries
VolumeEarly View
Early online date8 Nov 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Nov 2019


  • Discards
  • Energetics
  • Fisheries
  • Food requirements
  • Scavengers
  • Seabirds


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