Seabirds and fishing gear – a conundrum

Every day across the world, fisher men and women are out at sea, along coasts or far offshore in search of a good fish catch. Seabirds are irresistibly drawn to their boats, the bait, and the promise of a tasty and easily caught meal. But getting too close to fishing gear is dangerous, and unsuspecting seabirds get accidentally hooked or entangled, and then drown.

Unintentional deaths like this are called ‘seabird bycatch’, and it kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds each year. It’s also costly for the fishing industry as a hooked bird is an expensive missed chance to catch a fish.

The scale of this problem is enormous, yet for some years we have had very simple ways to prevent seabirds from being caught in the first place. Over the last decade, BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force has been on a mission in fisheries around the world; collaborating with fisher communities to create solutions to prevent seabird bycatch.

So far, they’ve achieved impressive reductions in numbers killed in southern Africa and South America. But despite their proven success, it has been a long and steep journey to introduce the same programme in Europe.

Although seabird bycatch is a big problem in Europe, it’s often ignored by governments. We believe at least 200,000 seabirds across the region are caught each year. Europe’s most threatened seabird species, Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater is vulnerable to being caught by fishers using longlines (long lengths of fishing lines with hooks) in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. This is pushing the species down a path towards extinction. In the Baltic, threatened and declining seaduck species, such as Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck are caught in large numbers in fishing nets as they feed by diving below the water’s surface. When you consider this in the context of how European seabird populations are faring, it is clear that this is an important problem that needs solving.

To see how the EU and BirdLife are attempting to solve the problem, click here.

Marguerite Tarzia, European Marine Conservation Officer


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