An overview of the impacts of fishing on seabirds, including identifying future research directions

Knowledge of fisheries impacts, past and present, is essential for understanding the ecology and conservation of seabirds, but in a rapidly changing world, knowledge and research directions require updating. In this Introduction and in the articles in this Themed Set “Impacts of fishing on seabirds”, we update our understanding of how fishing impacts seabird communities and identify areas for future research. Despite awareness of the problems and mitigation efforts for >20 years, fisheries still negatively impact seabirds via the effects of bycatch, competition, and discards. Bycatch continues to kill hundreds of thousands of seabirds annually, with negative population-level consequences. Fisheries for forage fish (e.g. anchovy, sandeel, and krill) negatively impact seabirds by competing for the same stocks. Historically, discards supplemented seabird diets, benefitting some species but also increasing bycatch rates and altering seabird community composition. However, declining discard production has led to potentially deleterious diet switches, but reduced bycatch rates. To improve research into these problems, we make the following recommendations: (1) improve data collection on seabird–vessel interaction and bycatch rates, on fishing effort and vessel movements (especially small-scale fleets), and on mitigation compliance, (2) counter the current bias towards temperate and high-latitude ecosystems, larger-bodied species and particular life stages or times of year (e.g. adults during breeding), and (3) advance our currently poor understanding of combined effects of fisheries and other threats (e.g. climate change, offshore renewables). In addition, research is required on under-studied aspects of fishing impacts: consequences for depleted sub-surface predators, impacts of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, artisanal and emerging fisheries, such as those targeting mesopelagic fish, have received insufficient research attention. Some of these shortfalls can be overcome with new tools (e.g. electronic monitoring, remote sensing, artificial intelligence, and big data) but quantifying and addressing fishing impacts on seabirds requires greater research investment at appropriate spatio-temporal scales, and more inclusive dialogue from grassroots to national and international levels to improve governance as fishing industries continue to evolve.


Publication status:
Authors: Votier, S.C., Sherley, R.B., Scales, K.L., Camphuysen, K., Phillips, R.A.

On this site: Richard Phillips
10 November, 2023
ICES Journal of Marine Science / 80
13pp / 2380-2392
Link to published article: