Europe and Central Asia

Minimising seabird bycatch

Photo: Gary Smith

Seabirds forage in highly productive areas of the ocean, which are also targeted by commercial fishing vessels. This overlap can cause them to be accidentally caught on hooks, or entangled in nets. Based on recent literature, it is estimated that every year across Europe more than 200,000 seabirds die as bycatch in fishing gears. This could potentially be higher, as this only considers two types of fishing gear (longlines and gillnets). Furthermore, very few fishing vessels have on board observers to monitor bycatch and the recording of bycatch is poorly enforced. 

The BirdLife Partnership has been identifying solutions, often relatively cheap to apply, and promoting these to be adopted in the EU. Within the EU these seabirds are protected under the EU Birds Directive and for some, such as the endemic and critically endangered Balearic shearwater, bycatch is threatening the species with extinction in the next 40 years.

For over a decade the Birdlife partnership campaigned for an EU robust strategy to protect these seabirds. In 2012 the European Commission finally adopted a Plan of Action for reducing incidental catches of seabirds in fishing gears. The plan defines the problem and sets out a number of actions that need to be taken at European, Regional and national level. We now work to ensure its successful implementation, especially through fisheries management.

Photo: Markus Vetemaa
Implementation of fisheries management plans need to introduce solutions to minimise the impacts on seabirds (e.g. through an integrated an ecosystem based approach) and therefore also achieve the objectives of the Common FIsheries Policy. This also includes improving the data that is collected on bycatch. BirdLife Europe engages with EU Institutions, national governments, and the fishing industry to promote the adoption of cost-effective mitigation measures, providing benefits to both fishermen and seabirds.

Case Studies

BirdLife Europe's Seabird Task Force

Based on BirdLife International’s Albatross Task Force (ATF) (focused in South America and southern Africa),  BirdLife Europe has established the Seabird Task Force. This is an expert team working alongside fishers to identify areas and fisheries where bycatch is high, and to develop and test technical solutions to minimise seabird bycatch in Europe.

The work so far is focused on set gillnets in the Baltic Sea (Lithuania) and on demersal longlines in the Spanish Mediterranean.  

The Birds Directive

It is one of the most important pieces of the EU nature legislation, aiming at the protection of wild bird species. It provides for the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs), an integral part of the Natura 2000 network. Unfortunately, only 2% of European seas are protected as marine SPAs.

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)

The reformed CFP, adopted in 2013, has as one of its objectives, to minimise the impacts of fishing activities on the marine environment by integrating an ecosystem based approach to fisheries management and also ensuring coherence with EU environmental legislation.

Seabird bycatch should therefore be tackled by the implementation of the CFP through appropriate technical actions when managing the fisheries, the improvement of monitoring and data collection, and more efficient control and enforcement. 

How seabirds get caught and drown in longline, gillnet and trawl fisheries.


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.