It is clear that discards from commercial fisheries are a key food resource for many seabird species around the world. But predicting the response of seabird communities to changes in discard rates is problematic and requires historical data to elucidate the confounding effects of other, more `natural' ecological processes. In the North Sea, declining stocks, changes in technical measures, changes in population structure and the establishment of a recovery programme for cod (Gadus morhua) will alter the amount of fish discarded. This region also supports internationally important populations of seabirds, some of which feed extensively, but facultatively, on discards, in particular on undersized haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) and whiting (Merlangius merlangus). Here we use long-term data sets from the northern North Sea to show that there is a direct link between discard availability and discard use by a generalist predator and scavenger-the great skua (Stercorarius skua). Reduced rates of discarding, particularly when coupled with reduced availability of small shoaling pelagic fish such as sandeel (Ammodytes marinus), result in an increase in predation by great skuas on other birds. This switching of prey by a facultative scavenger presents a potentially serious threat to some seabird communities.