Europe and Central Asia
9 Feb 2016

Will 2016 see the end of the EU’s bycatch blues?

Policy reform and new funding were marred by weak fisheries management plans, but we’re still optimistic. Photo: David Gremillet
By Bruna Campos

A fishing vessel accidentally catching seabirds is not uncommon in Europe. In fact, ‘seabird bycatch’ is one of the biggest threats faced by the species and is a major cause of their population decline. More than 200,000 seabirds die every year across Europe as bycatch in fishing gear. 

In 2012, by publishing a plan of action, the European Commission recognised this problem and that there are solutions that have already been developed or could be developed, ranging from simple scaring devices to more elaborate mechanisms that can be added to fishing gear to alter them. This plan of action, if implemented, would mean concrete solutions to save seabirds.

Since then, some legal changes have occurred in fisheries. For one, the Common Fisheries Policy was reformed. It now states that all fisheries management plans have to adopt an “ecosystem-based” approach to minimise the impact of fisheries not just on fish stocks but on the entire marine environment, including seabirds.

New funding opportunities that arose in 2014 to ensure the sustainability of fisheries and maritime activities have also been fundamental to ensuring Member States monitor seabird bycatch levels and look for innovative methods to combat it.

Despite these positive shifts, 2015 began on shaky ground: the European Commission’s proposal on the management of Baltic Sea fisheries did not include the “ecosystem-based” approach. However, the European Parliament and the Council have been negotiating on this, and we are very hopeful that when the final management plan is adopted (possibly in spring 2016), it will take this into account. Especially when it comes to helping seaducks that drown due to gillnet fishing.

Fast forward to 2016 and we are optimistic about the next few months, especially on the EU legislating that any longline fishing fleets in EU territorial waters will have to incorporate technical measures to minimise seabird bycatch.

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Why the optimism? We sent a letter to European Commissioner Karmenu Vella last November asking about the progress on implementing the seabird bycatch plan of action. We received a written response from the Commission reaffirming their commitment to enforcing the Birds Directive (including in seabird protection) and stating:

“In this proposal [upcoming proposal for fisheries technical measures] we will address several of the points of the Action Plan through a combination of mandatory measures in specific fisheries and regions, allowing for the adoption of mitigation measures at regional level and also through national measures taken by Member States to address the issue of incidental catches of sensitive species including seabirds.”

Bottom line: The EU intends to make it mandatory for fisheries that are bycatching seabirds to reduce this.

This is exactly what seabirds need in Europe to survive. However, there will still need to be a lot of follow up after the adoption of this legislation, especially on its actual implementation by fishers. Overall, it should still bring us one step closer to minimising the threat of seabird bycatch in Europe in 2016.

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.