Fishers, NGOs and politicians collaborate to prevent seabird bycatch in Gran Sol

The workshop was attended by all stakeholders across the spectrum. Photo: Pep Arcos/SEO
The workshop was attended by all stakeholders across the spectrum. Photo: Pep Arcos/SEO

We’ve written before about the major threat of bycatch to seabirds, and how the issue is particularly serious in the Gran Sol area – a fishing ground located west of the UK in the Atlantic Ocean. On 2 December, SEO / BirdLife in Spain, BirdLife International and the Organization of Fish Producers of Lugo (in Spain) organized a conference to discuss the problem, focusing on the demersal longline fishing fleet in the Gran Sol.

The conference, held in the fishing town of Burela in Lugo, received broad support from the fishing industry and the administration as well as the scientific sector, and was attended by the Secretary General of Fisheries Andrés Hermida (GSP MAGRAMA), the Rural Environment Conselleira do Mar and the Xunta de Galicia, Rosa Quintana, and CEPESCA Secretary General Javier Garat.

Presentations were made by SEO, BirdLife International, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification organisation, the Department of Sustainability of the Coast and Sea (Magrama), the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) and the Regal Group (fishers). Oli Yates, coordinator of BirdLife International’s Albatross Task Force, showed how his work has enabled bycatch reductions of over 90 % in some fleets. Isabel Lopez of Magrama recalled the importance of international agreements in this regard, such as the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

The message was unanimous: seabird bycatch not only represents a serious problem for conservation, but is also a nuisance to fishermen and can lead to significant economic losses. Most importantly, there are simple solutions that can be adapted to each fleet to minimise the problem, and everyone should collaborate to implement them.

From the point of view of fisheries, addressing bycatch is a direct benefit because it reduces unnecessary economic losses and can also improve the industry’s image, according to Juan Antonio Regal, director of fishing company Grupo Regal. “Environmental and social sustainability are the centre of our business strategy, and this is a source of competitive advantage.”

Focus on the Gran Sol

The demersal longline fleet in the Gran Sol has received particular attention since SEO / BirdLife’s Alvaro Barros conducted a study in 2006-2007 in collaboration with Puerto de Celeiro SA and the Xunta de Galicia, showing worrying seabird bycatch rates in the area. On the other hand, Roberto Serralde had fewer troubling results from the IEO observer programme, although bird data collection is not compulsory in this programme so less attention was paid to the issue.

Regal leads the group working to minimise the problem with a specific action plan, implemented as part of a process of MSC environmental certification.

Next steps

The day ended with an interesting debate moderated by Javier Garat, where everyone agreed to work together to address the problem of bycatch, starting with Gran Sol but extending the initiative to other regions. “The ultimate goal should be the development of a plan of action on bycatch of birds for the entire Spanish fleet,” said Garat.

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