The EU is one step closer to eliminating seabird bycatch

A bycaught Cory's Shearwater. Photo: John J Borg
A bycaught Cory’s Shearwater. Photo: John J Borg

11 March was a historic day for European seabirds. After years of dialogue, the European Commission has proposed a new legislation that will make it mandatory for all fishing vessels in the EU that incidentally catch seabirds to put in place measures to stop them from doing so.

Seabirds forage in areas of the ocean that are rich in fish, which are also targeted by commercial fishing vessels. This overlap can cause seabirds to be accidentally caught on hooks or entangled in nets meant for the fish. It is estimated that at least 200,000 seabirds are accidentally caught annually in EU waters. This includes species on the verge of extinction such as the Balearic Shearwater. However, until today the EU had not enacted any legally binding legislation for fishers to solve this problem. This proposed legislation is a game changer.

The new proposed legislation was one of the actions at the EU level foreseen in the Seabird Plan of Action published by the European Commission in 2012 in an effort to codify the actions needed from different national, regional and EU institutions to solve the issue of seabird bycatch across the EU.

“The avoidable massacre of majestic seabirds as bycatch is a long-running scandal. The problem has been virtually solved in many fisheries around the world. [This] proposal can make the use of mitigation measures the norm in EU waters as well,”Ariel Brunner, senior head of policy at BirdLife Europe, said.

BirdLife Europe particularly welcomes measures being proposed for longline fisheries (longline fishing is a commercial technique that uses a long fishing line with baited hooks attached at intervals to catch fish). BirdLife has already demonstrated globally with the Albatross Task Force that these solutions–including having scaring devices on boats, setting fishing lines at night, and adding weights to hooks to have them drop faster–help minimise seabird bycatch. We also believe these technical measures will encourage Member States to propose fisheries management measures for Natura 2000 sites.

Together with the recently proposed revision of the legislation that sets the framework for what data needs to be collected from fishers [7], the momentum to achieve concrete results in reducing seabird bycatch across the EU is building.

The efforts do not end here. The legislation will still need to be negotiated between the Council (i.e. Member States) and the European Parliament this year before it becomes enforceable law. We hope both institutions remember what is needed to implement the ambitions of the Common Fisheries Policy and ensure this new legislation supports a good management of EU fisheries.

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