10 Jun 2021

EU Seabird Bycatch Action Plan – Good intentions, little action!

Bird caught in a net ©Stipe Surac
By Daniel Mitchell

Bycatch is one of the most significant threats to seabirds globally. In European waters alone, at least 200,000 seabirds die caught in fishing gear, every year. The EU Action Plan for reducing the incidental catch of seabirds in fishing gears (EU-POA) adopted in 2012 had the objective to “minimise and, where possible, eliminate the incidental catches of seabirds, by EU vessels operating in EU and non-EU waters, as well as by non-EU vessels operating in EU waters”. But the lack of implementation has hindered progress, and seabird bycatch in the EU, and by EU vessels fishing outside EU waters, remains a pressing issue.

BirdLife’s analysis shows that of the 30 actions contained in the EU-POA, 19 have not been implemented, and a further eight have been only partially implemented, meaning that implementation is either completely missing or lacking for 90% of actions. In short, despite its ambitious objective the EU-POA has fallen a long way short.

Under the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 the Commission will develop a new Action Plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems which will, among other issues, address the bycatch of sensitive species, including seabirds. Originally, the Commission was meant to carry out a full review and evaluation of the EU-PoA after eight years of implementation (i.e., in 2020), to coincide with the obligation under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) to reach Good Environmental Status (GES), and to update the plan on the basis of the findings. However, this has not been carried out and therefore cannot inform the development of the new Action Plan.

Our report, Off the Hook? Reducing seabird bycatch in the EU’, aims to fill this gap by providing a critical analysis of the state of implementation of the 2012 EU-PoA. The report draws on the latest information about seabird bycatch in EU and non-EU waters, and the implementation of current EU legislation. It proposes specific recommendations for the new Action Plan, in order to achieve the objective to minimise, and where possible eliminate, seabird bycatch in EU fisheries in domestic and external waters.

Given the failure of the EU-POA, a new action plan will do little to address the problem of bycatch unless it addresses the reasons the previous action plan failed and:

  • Ensures the clear accountability to implement the actions.

  • Oblige Member States to regularly report on implementation and progress towards the Plan’s objectives to the Commission.

  • Establish a regular assessment process with ample follow-up in cases of inadequate implementation.

  • Ensure that all actions are supported by concrete financial commitments.


Read our report: Off the Hook - Reducing seabird bycatch in the EU