|EU Plan of Action for reducing incidental catches of seabirds is in the final stage of adoption by the European Commission
With the introduction of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management in the 2002 CFP reform, the EU committed to conduct its fisheries in a way that minimizes damage to the marine environment. However, nothing has changed for the better in the last ten years. Taking seabirds as one of the most visible and best studied group of species, it is clear that an ecosystem-based approach is still far from reality.
It is estimated that every year at least 200,000 seabirds die as bycatch in the gears – mainly longlines and gill-nets but to a lesser extent also trawls and purse seines – of EU fishing vessels, with the Baltic and eastern North Sea probably accounting for at least half of this toll. All of the victims are protected under EU Birds Directive and for some, such as the endemic Balearic shearwater, this impact risks dire consequences, threatening the species with extinction in the next 40 years. Well beyond EU waters, in the Southern Ocean, 17 out of 22 albatross species are endangered, largely due to incidental catch in the longlines and trawls of fleets which include EU-flagged vessels.
For over a decade, and with the strong support of the wider public, Birdlife has been urging the European Commission for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG Mare) to come up with a robust strategy to protect these birds by introducing an EU Seabird Action Plan. Our efforts have finally been successful with the proposal by the European Commission on Plan of Action for reducing incidental catches of seabirds in fishing gears now in the final stages of adoption. Then it will be up to the Member States to endorse the action plan in the Council and to implement the plan to put a halt to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of seabirds.
The Plan of Action includes a set of actions combined of changes in EU legislation, practical conservation work, research and development and awareness rising, with the ultimate objective to minimize and where possible eliminate the incidental catch of seabirds in the EU as well as in external waters where EU vessels operate. This is necessary to comply with the EU Birds Directive, international fisheries commitments and best practice standards. Action is required on three levels: changes in EU fisheries legislation, in particular the Common Fisheries Policy basic regulation, Technical Measures Framework and Data Collection Framework.
At Member State level it’s necessary to translate the relevant actions into national legal systems and take all necessary steps to eliminate seabird bycatch by using defined mitigation measures. Member States should also support education and training programmes for fishermen and their organisations to raise awareness about the issue. And importantly, the EU has an important role to play in promoting ambitious action on seabird bycatch in international fora, especially through the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs). BirdLife anticipates taking an active role in all of this outreach and ensuring that the plan is an operational success
Johanna Karhu, johanna.karhu(at)birdlife.org