Prevalence of marine debris in marine birds from the North Atlantic.
Bycatch and indirect mortality associated with global fishing operations affect non-target species. Northern gannets (Morus bassanus) and other seabirds incorporate marine debris, much of it originating in fisheries, into their nests, at times resulting in entanglement. We compared the prevalence and composition of marine debris in nests at two gannet colonies in Newfoundland before and after a basin-wide ground fish closure in 1992, and at the species' largest colony in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where fishing effort is low. The proportion of nests with marine debris decreased following the fishery closure, and the proportion of nests with fishing gear was related exponentially to the number of gillnets set around breeding colonies. Assessing the composition of gannet nests could provide a useful index of the prevalence of fishing debris and could be used to assess entanglement risk of other animals in the marine environment over decadal scales.