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.

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‘Baltic Plan’ gives hope to seabirds but fails to end overfishing

Baltic sea fishing. Photo: Flickr/Maciej Lewandowski
The just-agreed on Baltic Plan includes badly needed measures to stop the incidental bycatch of seabirds but fails to end overfishing. Photo: Flickr/Maciej Lewandowski

The good news: On 15 March, the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission finalised the negotiations on the multiannual plan for the management of the Baltic Sea cod, sprat and herring stocks – the so-called “Baltic Plan”. It is the first plan under the European Commission’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which aims to ensure that fishing are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

The European Parliament managed to include measures to minimise the impacts of fishing on the marine environment, including reducing the accidental catching of seabirds, dolphins, and sea turtles, in the final agreement. These specific and important measures had not been included in the original proposal by the European Commission. The Baltic Sea is a well-known hotspot for bycatch of seabirds with about 76.000 seabirds (mainly marine diving ducks) drowning in fishing nets every year.

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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.

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How the Nordics can set precedence for fisheries management in the EU

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? Continue reading