This article presents results from the first detailed study on the feeding habits of fish assemblages associated with offshore oil and gas platforms in the North Sea. Multi-seasonal sampling was conducted at one of the oil platforms located in the central North Sea between September 2010 and January 2014 to characterise temporal variation in the stomach contents of different fish species. A total of 6 fish species were recorded, including commercially important gadoids such as saithe Pollachius virens, haddock Melanogrammus aeglefinus and cod Gadus morhua. Saithe fed predominantly on euphausiids and haddock consumed a large proportion of ophiuroids, whereas cod were mainly piscivorous. The prey compositions were significantly different between species, indicating the presence of interspecific prey resource partitioning among those species. To further investigate possible links between the feeding habits of the most dominant fish species, saithe, and the physical presence of offshore platforms across the North Sea, a separate set of stomach data was collected during the 2012 Quarter 3 International Bottom Trawl Survey aboard the FRV `Scotia'. The multivariate analysis of both data sets showed that the observed spatio-temporal variability in the saithe diet was significantly explained by proximity to the nearest offshore platforms and changes in water temperatures, which appear to reflect patterns of euphausiid availability over space and time. The physical presence of the offshore structures may potentially affect the distribution/availability of zooplankton (i.e. euphausiids) and thereby influence the feeding behaviour of saithe and any other marine populations that are interconnected to the dynamics of such trophic interactions.
The author thanks OSPAR for providing data for offshore oil and gas structures in the North Sea and Imants G. Priede, Alan Jamieson, Jim Mair, Inigo Martinez, Michelle Horsfield, Anne Walls and all the crew members of BP’s Miller platform and the FRV ‘Scotia’, cruise 0912S, in particular Chief Scientist Finlay Burns, for invaluable advice and support in conducting this fish biology project. This work was coordinated by Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen, and was supported by the BP Fellowship in Applied Fisheries Programme.
- artificial reefs
- offshore oil and gas platforms
- marine feeding ecology
- fish assemblages
- North Sea