Seabirds, such as puffins, have a well-earned reputation as sentinels of change in marine environments. Photo Credit: Carlos Carreno/Getty Images

Animals The World25. January 2024

Best Prediction of Fish Populations? Ask the Seabirds!

For the first time, fishing managers are using seabird behaviour to predict the size of marine fish populations.

Recently, mathematical models made a miscalculation when they estimated that one-year-old herrings were abundant, leading the multimillion-dollar fishing industry to set high quotes for the next three years. In reality, the herring population was dropping rather rapidly and the fishing quotas were not met.

Seabirds, however, being highly sensitive to prey availability, may soon become an essential tool for fishing managers after a paper was released revealing the correlation between the two. Interestingly enough, many seabird biologists have encouraged fisheries to consider their data for years, to little avail. Lauren Scopel, a Canada University of New Brunswick graduate student studying terns on Machias Seal Island, published a paper in 2018 in which she revealed that the amount of herring in the diets of tern chicks could help predict the future size of herring stock. This revelation is only just now beginning to spread across fisheries. “[Fishing managers] should grab the information right out of the paper, plug it into their models, and see how it works,” says herring biologist Michael Power.

Smithsonian Magazine

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