Industrial fishing starves seabirds worldwide

The intensification of industrial fishing is helping to reduce the amount of food available to seabirds, threatening many species around the world.

A work of Benedictines! Since the late 1990s, as part of the international research group "Sea around us", the Fisheries Laboratory of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, one of the best research centers in this field, a database of all the world's fisheries.

" With the support of French biologists and the University of Aberdeen (Scotland), we were able, for the first time, to map the competition between industrial fishing and seabirds around the world between 1970 and 2010. "Says David Gremillet, a researcher at the Center for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CNRS-Montpellier University).

Extremely meaningful results

Researchers have succeeded in constituting a representative sample of marine birds that are victims of the excesses or bad practices of fishermen around the world, it seems. They were able to collect data on 60% of all the seabirds on the planet.

Specifically, all families of seabirds – such as penguins, albatrosses or cormorants – and 85% of all species, corresponding to half of the world's populations.

The disappearance of the living continues, according to the WWF

From there, the researchers were able to deduce the size of the different populations, identify the diet, the feeding areas and even calculate the average body mass of the animals. " All this allowed us to map seabirds' food intake on all the seas and oceans of the world "Insists David Grémillet.

Results: Birds' annual average food consumption decreased from 70 to 57 million tonnes between 1970-1989 and 1990-2010, while the average annual capture of bird prey by fisheries increased from 59 to 65 million tons during the same periods. Figures and a correlation that are self-explanatory.

Overfishing that tends to affect all seas

The competition seabirds / fisheries is not localized but global. The most affected areas are the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, as well as international waters due to the deep-sea fishing (off-shore) boats of industrialized countries. Added to this are small-scale fishing for small fish (anchovies, sardines) and squid

More than half of the oceans are harvested by fishermen

Despite the sharp decline of the global seabird community during the period 1970-2010, fisheries continued to maintain pressure. This competition has even increased in almost half of the world's oceans, such as the Southern Ocean – including krill (cold-water shrimp) caught by Norwegians along the Antarctic coasts to feed their salmon and poultry. breeding, the Mediterranean, off the coast of California and the continental shelves of Asian countries.

Chart showing the decline of the seabird community and the intensification of industrial fishing in the world during the period 1970-2010./Current Biology / Elsevier

Chart showing the decline of the seabird community and the intensification of industrial fishing around the world during the period 1970-2010. / Current Biology / Elsevier

" Intensification of industrial fishing is helping to reduce the amount of food available to seabirds, threatening many species around the world ", Says David Grémillet. In addition to overly intensive fishing, there are reasons such as the loss of quiet habitat for breeding, global warming, plastics and bycatch.

Overfishing also threatens the survival of seabirds

Solutions that are still theoretical but not practical

" Today, there is an urgent need to put in place a real marine resource management policy, as the French-Canadian marine biologist Daniel Pauly, from the University of Vancouver, cries out loud and clear for more than twenty years. ", believes David Grémillet.

Better governance of world fisheries necessarily involves the setting aside of international waters, those which are sometimes said to belong to no one and currently plundered by industrial fishing.

On the other hand, the fishing world seems to be suffering from a plethora of international organizations and conventions (FAO, Montego Bay Convention) that do not have enough power or real surveillance capacity. " A height when we have made a lot of progress in scientific knowledge and technological means ", Observes David Grémillet. The solution depends almost exclusively today on a political will.

Denis Sergent

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