Fishery discards do not compensate natural prey shortage in Northern gannets from the English Channel
Abstract Fisheries modify ecosystem balance by harvesting through marine food webs and producing large amounts of discards subsidizing scavengers. Among them, seabirds are the most conspicuous and have been benefiting from anthropogenic food sources generated by fisheries. However, this modified feeding behaviour also exposes them to threats, such as accidental bycatch on fishing gear and ecological traps set by discards of lower nutritional value compared to seabird natural prey. Seabird-fishery interactions have been the focus of numerous studies, but very few integrative investigations tested multi-annual dynamics. To explore this temporal dimension, we performed stable isotopic and body condition analyses, as well as GPS-tracking in Northern gannets ( Morus bassanus ) over a 12-year period (2005–2017), during which they coexisted with fisheries in the English Channel. We demonstrate that gannets fed either on natural prey, or fishery wastes, but that discard consumption induced increased seabird foraging effort and reduced adult body condition. These changes are concomitant with reduced gannet reproductive success, and reduced growth rate of their breeding population. Our work provides essential, novel understanding of scavengers-fisheries interactions, by showing that fishery discards do not compensate natural prey shortage in the longer term. Altered gannet foraging and fitness strongly suggest pelagic fish depletion threatening Northern gannets in the English Channel. To improve gannet conservation in this ecoregion, fishery discards may be banned, but, efforts should in priority go towards rebuilding Northern gannet pelagic prey populations, particularly by strongly reducing fishing effort on North Atlantic mackerel.