Marine and fisheries

BirdLife works to strengthen global, regional and national policies and agreements affecting seabirds and the marine environment through its Global Seabird and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programmes. Importantly this includes the collection and assessment of seabird data, sharing technical and scientific data to inform decision-making, and establishing systems to monitor compliance with regional and global agreements.

BirdLife’s marine policy work particularly targets agreements that can help reduce seabird bycatch; advance coastal, marine and high seas site protection; and make fisheries more sustainable.

Overall, seabirds are more threatened than other comparable groups of birds and that their status has deteriorated faster over recent decades. The main threats currently are; at sea the threat posed by commercial fisheries (through competition for resources and mortality on fishing gear) and also from pollution of the marine environment; whereas on land, alien invasive predators, habitat loss and degradation and human disturbance are among the main threats. Direct exploitation of seabirds remains a problem for some species both at sea and ashore.

Compared with other groups that play a similar role in marine systems, seabirds are exceptionally well-studied and information on their conservation status is more comprehensive and reliable than for any comparable group of marine organisms. Therefore, both intrinsically and because the status of seabirds is likely to reflect the underlying state of important parts of the coastal and oceanic systems of the world, we should take particular interest in how seabirds are faring.

Numerous scientific and marine experts have already rung the alarm bell about overfishing: if we continue to exploit fisheries at the current rate, in 2048 there won’t be any more fish left to catch in most of the world’s oceans.  More than 90% of the 10 most captured fish species are dangerously at risk of extermination and around 50% of commercial species are threatened. It is not only the commercial species which are threathened, as many non-commercial species are caught as by-catch, for every 1kg of prawn produced, 5kg of by-catch is also produced.  This destruction of the marine environment has knock on affects on seabirds, as many of the fish which they feed on are also reduced.

Despite the recognition of the high socio-economic, ecological and culture values of the world’s oceans, there are still severe pressures on coastal and marine resources, with insufficient management occurring and still less than 2% of the world´s marine environment protected. BirdLife is actively involved in working to ensure that Target 11 of the Aichi Targets, which calls for 10% of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape


BirdLife and Marine and Fisheries                 

Seabirds are killed as bycatch in fisheries around the world, particularly in longline fisheries, where birds get caught on the baited hooks, dragged underwater and drowned. Each year, more than a billion hooks are set by the world’s longline fleets, killing at least 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses. Evidence shows that where mitigation measures are used bycatch is substantially reduced as demonstrated by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which has reduced seabird bycatch in its regulated fisheries by 99%.

BirdLife's marine policy work particularly targets agreemens that can help reduce seabird bycatch; advance coastal, marine and high seas protection and make fisheries more sustainable. These include working and engaging with a number of international and regional mechanisms including:


How BirdLife is working on Marine issues

BirdLife is working to strengthen national, regional and international policies affecting seabirds and the marine enviroment through its Global Seabird and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) programme. Vitally this includes the collection and assessment of seabird data, sharing technical and scientific data to inform decision-making and establishing systems to monitor compliance with regional and global agreements.

To address seabird bycatch, BirdLife has been working with the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs), organisations through which countries collaborate to manage fish stocks on the high seas, as well as those that straddle the coastal waters of more than one country.

Alongside these  Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) BirdLife has also worked with and contriuted to other international mechanisms such as the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) and through the implementation of instruments and other mechanisms established by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO).  These agreements have a duty to minimise the bycatch of non-target species in their fisheries, including seabirds, sharks and sea turtlesrds killed.

To help define where problems might occur, we provide seabird distribution data (e.g. from that can be used to show overlap with longline fishing effort and where bycatch is most likely. To help implement solutions we provide advice on the use of the most suitable mitigation measures,  work with fisherman on boats to implement these through the Albatross Task Force, and collect data through targeted observer projects to assess their effectiveness. Many Partners have also been working through the FAO International Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries (IPOA-Seabirds) to implement a National Plan of Action (NPOA) for reducing bycatch.

Our advocacy work has resulted in a range of  positive outcomes - since 2004, significant progress has been made in all five of the global tuna commissions, with  all now having requirements for their vessels to use mitigation measures to reduce the number of seabirds killed. Where these have been in place for a number of years the successes in reducing bycatch have been spectacular, for example The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR) has reported a 99% reduction in albatross bycatch around South Georgia.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are vital to conservation efforts on the high seas and coastal areas, and the achievement of Target 11 of the Aichi Targets will be a significant step in the right direction for marine conservation. BirdLife’s e-Atlas covering 3,000 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) provides essential information for a range of stakeholders, including conservation practitioners and policy makers; energy sector planners (windfarms, gas and oil exploration and drilling); for fisheries managers;  marine pollution management planners; and for the insurance industry.  We have provided substantial technical and scientific input to the CBD process for identifying Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) in need of protection, both within and beyond national jurisdiction - over 500 marine IBAs have already been recognised within the CBD EBSAS process.

BirdLife has also been working with a number of the Regional Seas Programmes to advance seabird conservation, particularly through the advancement of MPAs. So far most progress has been made in the North East Atlantic and Eastern Africa. BirdLife is working with the High Seas Alliance to advocate for the protection of sites on the high seas under the United Nations agenda, mainly through the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction.

Most of the policy and advocacy work regarding fisheries sustainability are led by the BirdLife Regional European Office who are working to tackle loss of marine habitats and biodiversity by raising awareness at a range of political and societal levels, and especially among fishermen.

Policies are focused on the:

UN Fish Stocks Agreement establishes principles for the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, and establishes the duties of fishery management organisations to conserve all non-target, associated and dependent species that are affected by the fisheries, including seabirds. The Agreement also establishes standards for participation and transparency within fisheries management, duties to use a ‘precautionary approach’ to management, and duties to combat Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing


Policy positions and briefs            

BirdLife marine policy CBD COP 11

Marine IBA e-atlas

Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) Their duties and performance in reducing bycatch of albatrosses and other species

14 bycatch mitigation fact-sheets produced by BirdLife & (ACAP). Provided to fishers and fisheries managers to encourage change in practice


Seabird data for describing Marine Conservation Areas

Policy news