LEEDS, England, March 24 (UPI) — British scientists say a proposed ban on throwing unwanted fish overboard from commercial boats could endanger the North Sea’s most successful sea birds.
University of Leeds researcher Keith Hamer says he plans to assess the extent to which the proposed EU ban will affect gannets, which rely on unwanted fish and offal thrown from fishing boats to successfully breed and raise their chicks.
“The North Sea has undergone massive environmental changes over the last 20 years, which has put pressure on nearly all sea bird species,” Hamer said. “Only gannets have consistently bred successfully, partly because they can travel as far as South West Norway to feed, but also because they are able to target food thrown overboard by fishing boats. Although discards should be stopped to protect marine biodiversity, research is needed on the impact of a ban, so policy makers can understand the best way to implement it.”
Hamer said he will work with colleagues at the universities of Exeter and Plymouth in conducting the research.
The scientists said it’s possible gannets may have specialized feeding habits, with some relying heavily on discards as others focus on finding sand eels or diving for mackerel and herring. If that’s correct, they said a ban would disproportionately affect some breeding pairs, rather than impacting the whole colony.
The work builds on gannet research reported in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
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