Sandeels and seabirds: Protecting our seas in post-Brexit waters

kittiwakers.jpg(RSPB 14 June 2017; Photo: Andy Hay)

New research led by the RSPB shows that UK seabird populations could be affected by the amount of a critical fish species caught in the North Sea by an industrial fishery, highlighting the importance of continuing to work with other countries on fisheries management after leaving the European Union.

The study suggests a link between the amount of sandeels caught by fishermen and the breeding success of kittiwakes (a small species of gull, currently red-listed in the UK), with higher intensity fishing leading to lower numbers of chicks being produced.

In the North Sea, sandeels provide a vital food source for breeding seabirds but are also the target of an industrial fishery conducted mainly by Denmark. Tracking data of individual breeding kittiwakes by RSPB scientists indicates that the most productive sandeel fishing grounds, an area known as the Dogger Bank, overlap with foraging areas of kittiwakes from eastern English colonies, raising the prospect that the fishery could adversely affect the birds’ populations.

The Dogger Bank is the largest sandbank in the North Sea, straddling the waters of the UK (about 100 miles off the Yorkshire coast), Netherlands and Germany, and supporting a high density of sandeels.

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