After a long fight, the European Commission has finally launched an EU Plan of Action to reduce seabird bycatch: the incidental deaths of seabirds ensnared in fishing gears.
The RSPB along with its EU partners have advocated for an action plan since 2001, when the European Commission first committed to proposing one. Since then, we estimate that over two million seabirds have died in the fishing gears of vessels in EU waters alone, not counting the additional impact of EU-flagged vessels operating in the southern oceans where bycatch is held mainly responsible for 17 out of 22 albatross species being threatened with extinction.
Martin Harper, Director of Conservation said: “We applaud the EU for finally calling time on the needless deaths of seabirds. The RSPB is ready to work together with fishing communities to put the plan into action both here and abroad.” He continued: “However, the plan is essentially voluntary and to have real teeth it needs to be underpinned with legally binding measures under the Common Fisheries Policy, in particular to require fishing boats to use the technical fixes known to avoid catching birds, and to collect data on seabird bycatch.”
Embracing simple solutions
The EU Seabird Plan of Action aims to minimise and, where possible, eliminate the bycatch of seabirds in EU and external waters. It sets out to achieve this through a range of actions, notably calling on vessels to apply mitigation measures to prevent seabirds coming into contact with fishing gears. Other key areas cover research and development, and awareness-raising and training for fishermen. The RSPB considers the plan to be best practice, drawing heavily on other regions of the world where non-EU fleets have already embraced the often simple solutions proven to stop seabirds being killed.
Of the species which are heavily affected by bycatch in European waters, three occur regularly in the UK. All three are cited as threatened with global extinction with seabird bycatch being listed as a major threat. The Balearic shearwater – a dove-sized relative of the albatross – visits the English Channel and South Western Approaches regularly in autumn and winter, while the velvet scoter and long-tailed duck are sea ducks which regularly winter along the UK’s North Sea coast.