Jodice, P.G.R., L.C. Wickliffe*, E.B. Sachs*. 2011. Seabird use of discards from a nearshore shrimp fishery in the South Atlantic Bight, USA. Marine Biology 158:2289-2298.
Shrimp trawling is common throughout the southeastern and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the USA and is the primary contributor to fisheries discards in these regions. Tens of thousands of nearshore seabirds nest near shrimp trawling grounds in the USA, but to date, there has been no assessment of the relationship between seabirds and shrimp trawlers. We examined the taxonomic composition of bycatch, rate at which seabirds scavenged bycatch, and energy density of discarded bycatch in a nearshore commercial shrimp fishery. Bycatch was primarily comprised of demersal fish that are not typically accessible to the plunge-diving and surface-feeding seabirds that occur in the area. Hence, seabird diets in the region appear to be broadened taxonomically by the availability of discards. Results from discard experiments indicated that 70% of the nearly 5,500 items discarded by hand were scavenged by seabirds and that the fate of a discarded item was most strongly predicted by its taxonomic order. Laughing gulls scavenged the greatest proportion of discards, although brown pelicans were the only species to scavenge more discards than predicted based upon their abundance. Because this is the first such study in the region, it is difficult to ascertain the extent or intensity of the impact that discards have on nearshore seabirds. Nonetheless, our results suggest that it will be difficult for managers to clearly understand fluctuations in local seabird population dynamics without first understanding the extent to which these species rely upon discards. This may be especially problematic in situations where seabird populations are recovering following natural or anthropogenic stressors.