Europe and Central Asia
11 Jan 2016

From reducing bycatch to protection beyond borders: our 2016 marine objectives

The Common Fisheries Policy now gives legal backing to anti-bycatch measures, making this the perfect time to put an end to it. Photo: Dave Peake/Marine Photobank
By Marguerite Tarzia and Bruna Campos

Last year has seen some significant successes in protecting seabirds across Europe. However, there is much more work and continued challenges ahead in 2016.  We are clearly not doing enough as a society to protect the marine environment.

This year, we can hope that EU decision makers agree on a management plan to regulate the Baltic fisheries that is in line with the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy. This should end overfishing in the Baltic, and set the stage for similar paths to be taken for the North Sea and the Western Waters.

We are also expecting the impact of fishing on seabirds – especially through bycatch – to gain much greater recognition. Since the EU has identified seabird bycatch as an issue that needs to be fixed in the EU Seabird Plan of Action, the Common Fisheries Policy now provides a legal backing to resolve this across the EU fishing fleet. Therefore this is the perfect time to focus on preventing seabird bycatch and proving it can be done. All fishing vessels should be expected to minimise their impact through concrete actions such as putting scaring devices on their boats, as well as gather information for when they do catch birds accidentally. 

The BirdLife Partnership Seabird Task Force will help further conservation action on the ground by providing scientific data, methodologies for data collection and best practices for mitigation of seabird bycatch.

We are planning to expand the geographic scope of our work in 2016, with a renewed focus on developing potential solutions to gillnet bycatch. We are hoping that by showing the way to national governments on how to monitor bycatch and develop solutions that work for both fishers and seabirds, governments will begin to develop their own national plans for seabird bycatch.

There is an urgent need to address the threats and population declines of species as seen in the European Red List of Birds as well. Many of the seabirds in Europe continue to be affected by climate change and depletion of food sources, caused by ecosystem changes and overfishing. It is vital that we understand which areas are most important for seabirds – where they feed, breed, their migration paths, etc – so that these areas can be protected.

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The pressure is on governments to designate marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) as Natura 2000 sites. In 2014, BirdLife Europe published its progress assessment for each EU member state in earmarking Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for seabirds, which showed that many countries are still lagging in this regard, despite there being marine IBAs identified in their waters by conservationists.

Almost all countries have not yet begun managing existing marine SPAs (most lack even management plans), meaning that threats to seabirds have neither been properly understood nor are they being adequately mitigated within these areas.

Furthermore, national governments need to do much more for the identification and protection of sites at high seas: large areas of open ocean beyond national jurisdiction where seabirds and other large predators such as whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks roam. For many seabird species that feed in these areas, there is a strong need for international cooperation to protect them. Decision makers need to focus on the ‘trans-boundary’ nature of the marine environment and the creatures that inhabit it.

We also have high expectations that the European Commission will put its foot down and take national governments to court for not implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives and having not yet completed their marine Natura 2000 network. Consequently, we expect governments sitting on lists of Important Bird Areas, such as Malta, Greece, and Slovenia, to further designate EU marine Natura 2000 sites.

New marine IBAs are also likely to be designated in Iceland, Finland and Italy, and the BirdLife partnership will also be focusing on a plan to consider new areas at high seas in the northeast Atlantic. We will be helping to build the science and momentum to protect the most important sites for seabirds in both national waters and the high seas.

It will be a busy year ahead for the BirdLife European marine partnership. 

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.