Seabirds are among the most threatened groups of birds in the world. Seabird bycatch (the accidental killing of birds as they are caught during fishing) is regarded as one of the major threats for many seabird species, particularly petrels, albatrosses and shearwaters. Investigating the phenomenon and finding solutions is one of BirdLife International’s priorities.
Since the recognition of the problem in the late 1980s, research and conservation action have been focused on longline fishing fleets operating in the southern oceans, where many albatross species were experiencing sharp declines (BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force [ATF] was created to help deal with this).
However, there’s increasing evidence that the problem extends to other regions as well, including Europe, and involves several types of gear. The European Commission finally recognised the problem in 2012 with the publication of the EU Action Plan for reducing incidental catches of seabirds in fishing gears, and in 2014, BirdLife International created the Seabird Task Force (STF, with funding from Fondation Segré) to find ways to prevent bycatch, for now focused on two problem areas, namely the Baltic and Mediterranean seas.
It is considering working with fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean as the next step, and Gran Sol, a fishing ground located west of the UK in the Atlantic Ocean, is one place that urgently needs it.
In 2006-2007, an observer from SEO (BirdLife in Spain), Álvaro Barros, participated in three fishing trips to the region (lasting about two weeks each at different times of the year: October, February-March and August). SEO detected worrying seabird bycatch rates. Each trip saw 48 to 141 birds caught, most of them (83%) dead. The main species captured were the Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis), the Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), the Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) and the Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus).
The Gran Sol hosts a fishing fleet that includes about 50 demersal longline vessels (which fish along the sea floor). The majority of them are from Spain. This fleet targets hake, using the traditional piedra-bola system (a line with hooks hanging of it regularly, which hangs near the bottom with alternating weights and buoys).
Read more on the Gran Sol here.