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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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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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

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.

Read more here…

Buying the right fish in the market

The year 2013 has been key for the future of our fisheries, as it concluded with the revision of the Common Fisheries Policy. Years of increasing fishing pressure have resulted in the overexploitation and decline of the marine environment. For the first time since the creation of the EU, European regulations promote a hopeful future for the environment, even if some things still need to be discussed. Regardless of the results of European politics, as responsible consumers we must understand the problem and make the right choices – this is the way we will pressure the fish markets to be environmentally sustainable.

Read more here… (Spanish only)