Effects of seal predation on a modelled marine fish community and consequences for a commercial fishery

Jennifer E. Houle, Francisco de Castro, Michelle A. Cronin, Keith D. Farnsworth*, Martha Gosch, David G. Reid

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We constructed a size- and trait-based dynamic marine community model of the Celtic Sea/Biologically Sensitive Area, including grey seals Halichoerus grypus (Fabricius 1791) and harbour seals Phoca vitulina vitulina (Linnaeus 1758) to examine potential resource conflict between seals and commercial trawl fisheries. The model incorporates seal diet preference, population size and commercial fishery catch, with survey data to quantify ecological interactions between seals and fisheries.Total annual consumption by seals was an order of magnitude less than the catch of the modelled trawl fishery. Increasing fishing pressure reduced fish spawning stock biomass (SSB) much more than a proportionally equivalent increase in seal predation. For most fish species, quadrupling seal predation showed little effect on the predicted fishery catch.These results arise from relatively low seal abundance and partial niche partitioning. The fishery harvested a wider range of fish lengths and species than seals consumed. The fish community was dominated by small fish lengths and seals predated on these more than suggested by their calculated diet preference.Seal predation disproportionately affected several fish species not targeted by the fishery, but seal predation did not significantly affect the SSB of any of the species that constitute 90% of the total landings of the fishery.Synthesis and applications. Predation of fish by grey and harbour seals is unlikely to harm commercial trawl fisheries in south-west Irish waters. This conclusion differs from those of some model-based studies of other North Atlantic systems, demonstrating the need for ecosystem-specific evidence in considering such conflicts. In systems with low niche overlap between seals and fisheries, the two are largely decoupled in effect, leaving fishing pressure as the overwhelming determinant of targeted fish stock status.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-63
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Volume53
Issue number1
Early online date14 Nov 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

Keywords

  • Diet choice
  • Ecosystem-based fisheries management
  • Fisheries
  • Food web
  • Marine mammal
  • Resource competition
  • Seals
  • Size spectrum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology

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