EU decision makers are in the middle of a debate on how to manage Baltic commercial fish stocks (cod, herring, and sprat) and the impact of fishing activities on the wider environment – including the incidental catch of seabirds, known as seabird bycatch. But how can this be achieved concretely in the Baltic? And why are the decisions taken for the Baltic region so important for the rest of European countries?
Seabird bycatch is a threat to the survival of seabirds. Fishermen often congregate in the same area where seabirds feed. While diving for food, seabirds get entangled in fishermen nets or caught in fishing hooks and drown. BirdLife International has been working with fishermen around the world to solve this problem – having had very good success in fisheries management off the Namibian coast and the Uruguayan fishing fleet, just to name a few. Rightly so, mitigation of seabird bycatch can be easily achieved through good fisheries management.
Velvet Scoter, Eider Duck, and Long-tailed Duck are some of the seabirds found in the Baltic that are caught in fishing nets – mainly those fishermen trying to catch cod and herring. Studies suggest that just in the Baltic and North Sea alone, around 200,000 of seabirds are caught per year. This is having a detrimental impact on seabird populations.
In 2012, the European Commission released an action plan to combat the problem of the incidental catch of seabirds. In 2013, the EU adopted a Common Fisheries Policy that set as an objective to minimize the impact of fisheries to the wider environment by implementing an ecosystem based approach to fisheries. These plans should give direction to what fishermen in the region need to do to ensure fish stocks are restored and maintained above levels capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield. Furthermore, they aim to minimise the impact of fisheries to other non-target species (including fish and non-fish bycatch). These directions include catch limits that Member States negotiate on a yearly basis, technical rules needed to kick in a safeguard for fish stocks and other non-target species (such as seabirds), rules of the landing obligation setting limits to discarding of fish at sea.
The Baltic management plan, as it is called, will set a precedent for all other regional sea plans. On the 30th of March, Members of the Fisheries Committee in the European Parliament will vote to decide just that. Until then, they are negotiating how to amend the Commission’s vague proposal.
Some questions remain. In 2015, will the EU do what it set out to do in previous years starting with the Baltic? Will the EU be left behind at the international scene or step up its game? Will it show that it can also manage its fisheries and the impact to the wider environment?
Bruna Campos, EU Marine and Fisheries, BirdLife Europe