Spatial overlap between South American fur seal foraging effort and commercial trawl fisheries in the Falkland Islands
Interactions between seals and commercial fisheries can pose a significant threat to the conservation status of seal populations. In the Falkland Islands, home to over 50% of the global South American fur seal (SAFS) population, there has been a dramatic (~ 900%) increase in the number of SAFS-fishery interactions in recent years. However, significant knowledge gaps regarding SAFS spatiotemporal foraging behaviour and habitat use hinders our capacity to assess the ecological mechanisms underpinning these interactions. In this study, we investigate the spatial overlap between SAFS foraging effort and commercial squid and finfish trawl fisheries in the Falkland Island Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). By spatially integrating two years of SAFS horizontal and vertical movement data with contemporaneous trawl-by-trawl information from the Falkland Islands fishing fleet, we examine whether SAFS concentrate their foraging effort in areas associated with greater squid and finfish catch quantities. Our findings reveal a marked spatial overlap between SAFS foraging effort and commercial trawling activity within the Falkland Islands EEZ, particularly in areas associated with Patagonian longfin squid (Doryteuthis gahi) and common hake (Merluccius hubbsi). Across the various metrics of foraging effort (summarised dive activity) examined, we found SAFS performed a greater number of dives, travelled greater vertical distances and performed deeper dives in intensively fished areas. These results suggest SAFS forage in the same habitats targeted by commercial squid and finfish fisheries, where they compete for demersal resources by performing a high frequency of deep dives. The implications of our findings are discussed within the broader context of local prey-field dynamics and fisheries-management. This study represents one of the most comprehensive investigations of SAFS movement ecology and advances our understanding of seal-fishery interactions in the Falkland Islands EEZ – a topic of increasing management concern. Importantly, this work can support conservation efforts for this globally significant SAFS population and contribute to long-term marine management objectives of the Falkland Islands fishery.
Authors: Riaz, Javed, Orben, Rachael A., Jones, Kayleigh A. ORCID record for Kayleigh A. Jones, Shapiro, Megan, Winter, Andreas, Brickle, Paul, Baylis, Alastair