Cape gannets and commercial fisheries

Cape gannets and commercial fisheries_©PeterChadwick_AfricanConservationPhotographer

As global fisheries dwindle due to over-exploitation, so do the main food sources for our seabirds. Off South African waters, the collapse of the populations of small pelagic fish species has made foraging for food by Cape gannets more and more difficult. As a result of this, the gannets have taken to following commercial trawlers where they wait for the nets to be pulled to the surface.

They then eagerly grab what they can before the nets are hauled aboard. The gannets also wait behind the vessels for any offal that is thrown overboard. The problem with this is that the nutrient quality of the fish and offal does not measure up to the gannet’s normal prey species. This means that the gannets quickly loose body condition and breeding success is therefore also reduced.

Global seabird populations are crashing as a result of anthropogenic influences and our oceans are in dire straights from over-exploitation and pollution. We urgently need to change this situation and one of the ways to do so is through positively supporting and proclaiming well-managed marine protected areas that can act as centers of resilience for allowing ocean recovery.