Seabirds in the Baltics
Bycatch of seabirds in gillnets is a global conservation issue, and the Baltic Sea is a particularly important hotspot, with an estimated 76,000 birds caught annually in the sea basin. Threatened Baltic seabird species including Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck are particularly susceptible. There are currently no proven, effective solutions to prevent seabirds from being caught in gillnets. The lack of technical solutions and weak implementation of EU policies nationally and regionally are major barriers to resolving this important conservation issue within the region.
The Lithuanian Ornithological Society (LOD - BirdLife Partner), through its own and external research, has identified gillnet bycatch as a serious issue in Lithuanian waters, particularly for the globally threatened Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck. To begin to tackle this problem, LOD and BirdLife International set up the Seabird Task Force - a team of bycatch experts who work collaboratively with fishermen towards developing solutions. This project will build on previous work by the Seabird Task Force, and focus in the inshore Lithuanian Baltic and across the Curonian Lagoon to assess and tackle seabird bycatch, with the core objective of identifying a technical mitigation measure to reduce seabird bycatch. Bringing in the expertise of sensory ecologists and fisheries engineers, the team will work to develop mitigation measures specifically adapted for gillnets and trial these with participating fishermen in Lithuania to determine their effectiveness in reducing bycatch - with a view to seeing effective mitigation adopted in gillnets across the Baltic.
BirdLife Europe is working to increase awareness of the bycatch issue in Lithuania and across the Baltic with decision makers, fishing industry and key bycatch stakeholders, and advocate for strengthened policies and management at national and regional level. Building on previous experimental research, we will continue to lead international efforts to develop solutions to seabird bycatch in gillnets. The project team will also work for the first time in Russia as a first step to evaluate gillnet bycatch across the Curonian Lagoon, a hugely important staging area for several waterbird species.