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Thousands of sharks and sea turtles fall victim to bycatch in Cyprus every year

BirdLife Europe, together with partners in Cyprus and the University of Exeter, is working to understand and address the incidental catch of vulnerable species across the island.

By BirdLife Europe and Central Asia & BirdLife Cyprus

Thousands of sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals, and sharks and rays fall victim to bycatch each year in European waters. In the Mediterranean alone more than 44,000 sea turtles are estimated to be killed in fishing gear. Through the Cyprus Bycatch Project (CBP), BirdLife Europe, together with partners in Cyprus and the University of Exeter, is working to understand and address the incidental catch of vulnerable species across the island.

Over a two-year sampling period[1], it was revealed that elasmobranchs (sharks, rays, and skates) and sea turtles were the species most affected by bycatch with tens of thousands of elasmobranchs, and thousands of sea turtles bycaught annually. In addition, opportunistic reports of bycatch and stranding events have shown that Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatues) and Striped Dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) interact with fisheries in Cyprus. These interactions are occasionally fatal for dolphins when they get entangled in nets, and very often result in significant damage to fishing gear and target catch, inevitably reinforcing negative feelings from fishermen towards these protected species.

The CBP monitoring program has highlighted an impressive diversity of elasmobranch species in Cypriot waters, especially in the northern coast, and confirmed that their survival is threatened by small-scale and polyvalent fisheries. Many elasmobranch species were recorded in northern Cyprus for the first time ever during the project, and more species have been added to the list through the Cyprus Elasmobranch Research and Conservation Network (CERECON) project. The project also recoded bycatch of a Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), one of only a few records for Cyprus and the first in the north of the island.

The project confirmed significant sea turtle bycatch, including the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), both of which are threatened species. The Green Turtle has a lower population and a more restricted range, meaning it is at even greater risk of local extinction.

There has been no records of seabird bycatch during the first phase of the monitoring programme, yet different species of seabirds, including juvenile and adult Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) and Mediterranean Shags (Gulosus aristotelis desmarestii) were observed during fishing trips (especially during hauling) and were seen feeding off fish discards or hovering close to fishing boats. Even with no records of seabirds being caught during the first phase of the project, it is crucial to keep in mind that a high coverage of fishing effort is needed to get an accurate picture of seabird bycatch, given that fishermen have indeed reported bycatch of seabirds in the past.

You can dive deeper into the results of the bycatch observation programmes in the reports for northern Cyprus and for southern Cyprus.

[1]The data were collected from 2018 to 2019, following the GFCM methodology, and coordinated with the observer programmes established under the MedBycatch Project to ensure consistency at the sea basin level.

The Cyprus Bycatch Project is coordinated by Birdlife Europe and Central Asia, and implemented by BirdLife Cyprus and Enalia Physis Environmental Research Centre (Enalia Physis) in the south of the island, and by the Society for the Protection of Turtles (SPOT), with support from the University of Exeter, in the north. The project is funded by the MAVA Foundation.

Image credit: © Silvio Rusmigo

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