Takver | 14.01.2005 05:55 | Ecology
"The disappearance of sandeels has afflicted the UK’s North Sea coast from Yorkshire to Shetland, where the stock collapse was so severe that fishermen voluntarily shut down the fishery in the worst affected area. By contrast to the small local inshore fishery in the Shetlands, the huge (Danish-led) offshore sandeel fishery in the North Sea kept going but struggled to catch 300,000 tonnes of sandeels out of an annual quota in excess of 800,000.
What has caused the collapse of the sandeel population? In what scientists are labelling a "regime shift", rising sea temperatures have fundamentally changed the plankton mix, to the detriment of sandeels.
"We could be witnessing the single biggest change in the North Sea since it was formed 10,000 years ago." —Euan Dunn, Head of RSPB Marine Policy
"Sandeels prop up the marine food web, from cod and mackerel to kittiwakes. There is a compelling case for reining in the offshore commercial industrial fishery for sandeels even further," said Euan Dunn, Head of Marine Policy at the RSPB. The preliminary scientific advice for next year is to cut the catch limit by 60% due to the "historic low" sandeel stock level, a move greatly welcomed by BirdLife.
It was also reported that a research vessel surveying waters between Britain and continental Europe saw "virtually no guillemot chicks, an unusual lack of cetacean activity between the Moray Firth and the Northern Isles of Scotland, and Northern Fulmars in poor plumage condition, once again showing evidence of arrested moult." Signs of an ecosystem in distress.
"We could be witnessing the single biggest change in the North Sea since it was formed 10,000 years ago," warned the RSPB’s Euan Dunn, saying that the situation could become worse in coming years.
Some Species in peril:
Common guillemot (Uria aalge)
Lives at sea except when breeding from May to August. Sometimes thousands of guillemots share the same cliffs nesting on tiny ledges, each female laying a single egg. They do not breed until five or six years old and live 30 years or longer. Dropped 50% in numbers in Shetland since 2000. Breeding success Fair Isle, Shetland 2004 - nil
Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)
Named after the loud call kittee-wake which rings around the cliffs as the bird flies to and from its nest. It spends its winters out to sea but breeds along the high cliffs on all northern coasts, particularly in the northern isles, often in colonies of many thousands. Breeding numbers nationally dropped 25% in 10 years, in Shetland 69%. Breeding success Orkney 2004 - nil
Northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
Gliding flight with wing span of more than a metre. Can live more than 50 years. Breeding population nationally dropped 35% in eight years. Fledged chicks per nest site dropped from four to one in south-east Scotland over same period.
RSPB 5 Jan05 - Seabirds in the North Sea: victims of climate change?
The Guardian (UK) - 21 Dec 2004 - Britain's Seabird Colonies Face Disaster
Decline Of Food Stocks Blamed For Catastrophic Breeding Season
Information on Sandeels
Zmag - 04 Apr 2004 - Global Warming As A WMD