Europe and Central Asia

BirdLife Europe & Central Asia - Press release 29 September 2017

Unique collaboration between experts and fishermen tackles seabird bycatch in Europe in valuable report

 

Across the world, seabirds are caught in many different kinds of fisheries and fishing gears, including in longlines and gillnets. These unintentional deaths, known as ‘bycatch’, are a major threat to seabirds; BirdLife estimates that 200,000 seabirds die annually in gillnets and longlines across Europe. The bycatch of these species and the poor management of the fisheries in relation to this issue are an infringement of the Birds Directive.  In 2014, the Seabird Task Force (STF) was founded as a first of its kind in Europe, building a collaboration between bycatch experts and fishermen to tackle bycatch. After three years, the report comes at an opportune moment when the European Parliament will be deciding on October 10th a position on how to manage EU fishing fleets to tackle bycatch. 

In 2016, in an effort to regulate bycatch of seabirds, amongst many other impacts of the fishing fleet, the European commission proposed a new regulation to manage fisheries that would establish baseline technical solutions in some sea basins to tackle the incidentally catching of seabirds. Technical solutions already exist for some fishing gears and have been found to prevent or dramatically reduce the incidental catches of seabirds. However, implementing these solutions and monitoring their effectiveness has been very slow in the EU. Furthermore, research and development to identify solutions for gillnets has been minimal.

During the last 3 years, the Seabird Task Force has worked directly with fishermen in order to understand seabird bycatch, adapting known solutions to longline vessels in Spain and testing experimental solutions in gillnets in Lithuania.

In Catalonia (Spain) the Seabird Task Force, together with SEO (BirdLife in Spain) focused their work on small and medium scale longline fishing fleets. Demersal longline fishing, where fish hooks are set and sink to the seafloor, targeting species like Hake and Seabream, are particularly risky for threatened seabird species such as the endemic and long-lived shearwater species. The STF estimates that each year in the peak bycatch season alone, 500 shearwaters (of which 300 are the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater) are killed in Catalonia. The birds dive for the baits attached to hooks and become hooked themselves, leading to their death or injury. The STF worked on-board with fishermen to first identify the most suitable mitigation measures and worked to assess and adapt these possible “solutions” together. Based on the monitoring data, a toolbox of technical solutions are needed for this fleet to reduce bycatch, which could include gear modifications to make the hooks sink faster, and fishing at night when birds are less active. Further testing of more experimental solutions, such as the vertical longline system is needed to further adapt to the Catalan fleet.

In Lithuania the STF, together with LOD (BirdLife in Lithuania), concentrated their work on developing experimental gillnet mitigation measures, since gillnets are estimated to catch 76,000 seabirds in the Baltic each year and technical, gear-based solutions do not currently exist for this fishing gear. Diving seabirds, such as seaducks, are not able to see the fine nylon of fishing nets, so they get caught in nets and drown. The Seabird Task Force tested high contrast panels in the hope that birds would perceive the net and avoid becoming entangled. The results suggest that around 1000-1500 seaducks are caught each year in Lithuania in the small scale fleet. Although the experimental tests showed that panels did not reduce bycatch of birds the results have been useful in informing the next phase of work which will involve testing aversive stimuli, including lights.

Implementing, monitoring and testing solutions is vital to ensure that mitigation can work. However, it is not enough to stop seabird bycatch. These measures need to be supported by a robust regulation that ensures effective management of the fleet, and enables implementation, monitoring and testing solutions.

Marguerite Tarzia, European Marine Conservation Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia said: “Seabird bycatch is a major threat to the survival of seabirds; and this report helps demonstrate that the problem is really significant in Europe as well. The work carried out by the Seabird Task Force shows that by implementing, monitoring, and testing solutions on the boats together with fishermen, we can solve seabird bycatch while they continue fishing.”

Bruna Campos, EU Marine and Fisheries Policy Officer, BirdLife Europe and Central Asia said: ”It is clear from this report that we need better management of the EU’s fishing fleet and on the 10th of October, if the European Parliament does not vote for baselines to tackle seabird bycatch, they will be giving a death sentence to many seabird species across Europe.” 

The work carried out by the Seabird Task Force (STF) was made possible thanks to the generous support of Fondation Segré. ENDS

For further information, please contact:
Marguerite Tarzia, European Marine Conservation Officer
BirdLife Europe and Central Asia
Marguerite.Tarzia@birdlife.org 
+44 (0)1223 747 587

Bruna Campos, EU Marine and Fisheries Policy Officer
BirdLife Europe and Central Asia
bruna.campos@birdlife.org
+32 (0) 478 88 6420

Notes:
[1] The Seabird task force report is available on the Seabird Task Force website https://seabirdbycatch.com/2017/09/29/seabird-task-force-report-released/ 

[2] Proposal from the European Commission on a Regulation on the Conservation of Fisheries Resources and Marine Ecosystem through Technical Measures (2016/0074 (COD)) http://eur-lex.europa.eu/procedure/EN/2016_74