‘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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Reversing the tide on marine litter

Marine litter, Germany

Marine litter is becoming more common than sand at the beach and it’s threatening the lives of seabirds. In Germany, BirdLife partner NABU is taking some useful actions to combat the issue.  

It’s summer time, so it’s only natural that people – especially holiday-goers – are making a beeline for coasts and beaches. But as if jostling for space with other vacationers on the beach and water wasn’t enough, there’s also marine litter to contend with. This may seem like ‘just rubbish’ to us, but for seabirds, its effects can be devastating.

To prove just how serious an issue marine litter is, some of the species threatened by this are those protected under the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives (the laws that establish nature protection for specific species and habitats across the EU). Migratory species, such as the Roseate Tern, which nest in the summer on the northern hemisphere in Europe, gather food in the garbage-filled wintering area in the Gulf of Guinea off the West African coast. Gannets on Helgoland Island in the German Bight build their nests from scraps of degraded plastic strings from ropes used by boats (e.g. shipping and fishing) and fishing gear, in which particularly chicks get entangled or worse, strangled.

The decades-old Fulmar monitoring programme in the North Sea has shown that 95% of the stomachs of dead Fulmars contain plastic, which remains undigested for a lifetime, filling their bellies like a cruel diet pill.

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First English Marine Plans arrive

 

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) today releases the final marine plans for the East of England inshore and offshore areas, a total area of almost 60,000km. We’ve had land planning for over 60 years, but this is the first ever time an equivalent plan has been adopted for an area of our marine environment.

From the RSPB’s perspective, what was clear ten years ago is still clear now: sectoral management on its own has led to the continued and unsustainable depletion of natural resources, and to serious declines in the overall health of marine ecosystems.

For us, having a clear and spatial plan that recognises (to the best of our knowledge) where the most important places for seabirds and waterbirds are at different times of year, is a key step forward. It allows the MMO to use this information proactively to guide activities to avoid the worst impacts happening before they occur.

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