Seabird diets provide early warning of sardine fishery declines in the Gulf of California

Sci Rep. 2013;3:1332. doi: 10.1038/srep01332.


Small pelagic fisheries show wide fluctuations, generally attributed to oceanographic anomalies. Most data on these fisheries come from landings, often reporting sustained catches-per-unit-effort (CPUEs) until a decline occurs. Fishery-independent data are important as management tools. In this study we show that the proportions of Pacific Sardine and Northern Anchovy in the diet of three seabird species (California Brown Pelicans, Heermann's Gulls, and Elegant Terns) nesting in spring in the Gulf of California show significant relationships with CPUEs during the following season in gulls and terns, or during the same season in pelicans. As sardine availability for seabirds declines, CPUEs remain high until the fishery falls, one or two seasons later. A declining proportion of sardines in the seabirds' diet, combined with the status of the Pacific warm-phase anomaly (El Niño), give a reliable forecast of diminishing CPUEs and signals the need to reduce fishing efforts in the ensuing season.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.