MEPS 305:153-161 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps305153

Mackerel icefish Champsocephalus gunnari in the diet of upper trophic level predators at South Georgia: implications for fisheries management

Keith Reid*, Simeon L. Hill, Tania C. D. Diniz, Martin A. Collins

British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK

ABSTRACT: The mackerel icefish Champsocephalus gunnari Lönnberg is an important component of the ecosystem at South Georgia. Its diet is dominated by Antarctic krill Euphausia superba; in turn, it is also an important prey of a number of upper trophic level predators, as well as being the target of commercial fisheries. Data on the frequency and size structure of mackerel icefish in the diet of Antarctic fur seals Arctocephalus gazella and gentoo penguins Pygoscelis papua from 1991 to 2002 were used to examine trophic interactions involving this species and to evaluate the potential impact of predators on its population. Mackerel icefish occurred in 10 to 20% of scats from Antarctic fur seals and comprised 48% of the diet by mass of gentoo penguins. The contribution of mackerel icefish to the diet of predators was in inverse proportion to the contribution of Antarctic krill. The length-frequency distributions of mackerel icefish indicated a dominant mode at 130 to 180 mm total length (the 1+ age class), with apparent strong cohorts entering the population in 1993, 1996, 1999 and 2001. Extrapolation of diet data to produce a consumption estimate for the South Georgia population of Antarctic fur seals and gentoo penguins suggests that scientific trawl surveys may underestimate the standing stock of mackerel icefish by 1 order of magnitude. Changes in the South Georgia ecosystem over the past 2 decades may have increased the level of consumption of mackerel icefish by predators, providing a potential ecosystem-based explanation for the lack of a recovery to the pre-exploitation population size.

KEY WORDS: Antarctic fur seal · Arctocephalus gazella · Ecosystem interactions · Gentoo penguins · Pygoscelis papua · Mackerel icefish · Champsocephalus gunnari · South Georgia

Full text in pdf format