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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International ocean governance: can the EU take the lead?

Proper ocean management is necessary to sustain life. Photo: Yan Renucci/Flickr
Proper ocean management is necessary to sustain life. Photo: Yan Renucci/Flickr

The more we learn about oceans, the more we realise how important they are for our wellbeing. Our life depends on the benefits that oceans provide, which vary from food, energy and minerals to climate regulation and recreational services. WWF estimates the overall value of ocean “gross marine product” at US$ 24 trillion (about 22.6 trillion euros).

Despite their obvious benefits, oceans are facing multiple pressures, including overexploitation of fish stocks, pollution, climate change and ecosystem degradation, which are jeopardising the provision of these important services.

Oceans sustainability relies on the management of its different uses. Ocean waters under national territories of various countries have a “responsible guardian”. But what happens to the 60% of ocean waters that are “free to all nations, but belonging to none of them”? There is need for a stronger international management regime which will balance the use of ocean resources with the conservation needs of marine ecosystems.

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The Baltic fisheries plan is about more than just the Baltic

The Baltic Sea at Maasholm, Germany.
The Baltic Sea at Maasholm, Germany. The success of fisheries plan for this sea is the first step to get us on the way to healthy seas and oceans. Photo: Christof/Flickr

On 28 September, the European Parliament, led by MEP Jarosław Wałęsa, and the European Council, led by the Luxembourgish Presidency, go back behind closed doors to try and agree on a new plan for managing fisheries in the Baltic Sea.

You’ve probably already seen a couple of other blogs about it – I recommend Pew’s recap of what has happened so far. ClientEarth has also done a great job explaining the Maximum Sustainable Yield concept (the largest average catch that can be captured from a fish stock under existing environmental conditions) – and how the negotiations for the Baltic can set a precedent for incorrectly implementing management measures to end overfishing, creating a “wild child”.

So what is really at stake if we don’t manage fisheries correctly through these plans?

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How healthy is your sea?

EU Member states are yet to settle on criteria to reach 2020 targets for healthy seas. Photo: Castgen/Flickr
The sea in Calabria, Italy. EU Member states are yet to settle on a new criteria to reach 2020 targets for healthy seas. Photo: Castgen/Flickr

How healthy is the sea you swim in when on vacation? That’s a question many EU Member States have been trying to answer. And it is not just about understanding chemical or plastic pollution, but also if the nature is ‘balanced’.

In 2008, the EU decided that it should have a common strategy to achieve healthy seas. In applying this common strategy, Member States set targets that they sought to reach by 2020. They then laid out their plans – with detailed actions and monitoring measures – to be implemented by 2015.

Fast forward to 2015, and Member States have encountered several road blocks preventing them from being on track to achieving “healthy seas”. The EU is now tasked with revisiting the efforts to set ambitious targets, sufficient actions, and efficient monitoring programmes and see what can still be changed to guide Member States to achieve healthy seas by 2020.

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Juncker’s New Commission – what will happen to the marine environment?

European Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker proposed, on September 10th 2014, his Commissioner’s lineup and a revamping of the college organigram. His lineup has been called controversial by many, including the environmental campaigners.

In short, as Martin Harper from the RSPB/BirdLife UK rightly says “If you care about anything other than economic growth, his agenda makes miserable reading”. So, after merging DG Environment and DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, what is actually at stake for the marine environment in this new commission? Continue reading