Europe and Central Asia
3 Dec 2014

Would you like some seabird with that fish?

Fisherman hauling a Shearwater © Vero Cortes
By Bruna Campos

Seabirds dive for food in the very same places targeted by commercial fishing vessels and often end up drowning while being caught on the hooks of longlines, or entangled in nets or trawls. This is referred to as ‘seabird bycatch’. These incidental catches result in the death of hundreds of thousands of seabirds every year across the world. This also represents a costly problem for fishermen, who want to catch fish and not birds.

In the same way a farmer would set a scarecrow in a field, a fisherman can set scaring lines. This is just one of the many simple and inexpensive ways to fix the problem of seabird bycatch which can significantly reduce the number of birds caught without reducing fish catches.

Legislation can also make tremendous progress in ensuring these types of solutions are used. November 2014 marked two years since the European Commission proposed an action plan for minimising accidental catches of seabirds. Member States were expected to deliver on important actions such as reviewing available bycatch data, identifying fisheries where more detailed investigations are required, and implement proven mitigation measures in recognised fisheries such as longline fisheries in the Gran Sol and in the static net fisheries in the Baltic. But their efforts have been very minimal so far.

Therefore, European legislation such as a framework for technical measures for fisheries and data collection will be fundamental to ensure basic rules are established. Furthermore, the planning phase in the management of fisheries (i.e. Regional Seas multiannual plans) will also need to include concrete actions to tackle these problems at regional level.

Unfortunately, the European Commission failed to establish concrete solutions for the first Regional Sea multinational plan it proposed for the Baltic Sea. One can wonder if the same mistake will be made for the North Sea which multinationnal plan will be proposed in 2015.

The dossier is now in the hands of the European Parliament and European Council. Birdlife Europe hopes that both the Members of the European Parliament and EU governments will ensure that management measures are foreseen to tackle seabird bycatch.

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.