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Why Commercial Fishing Threatens Seabirds

It is becoming common knowledge that the populations of British Seabirds are diminishing. The birds have been impacted by a variety of issues including climate change, pollution, loss of habitat and wind farms. But there is another problem – commercial fishing.

Seabird Bycatch

Why would fishing be killing off birds? Well, because seabirds are getting caught up in the tackle and nets used. Seabirds and many marine mammals are regularly a bycatch of commercial fishing activities. If you think that this wouldn’t be a major issue, consider that an estimated 200,000 birds are accidentally caught by fishing hooks and nets every year.

Threatened Species

Petrels and shearwaters are amongst our most threatened species and they are being severely affected by fishing activities. Indeed, many of Europe’s 82 species of seabird are at risk but some birds are more susceptible to the perils of fishing activities than others.

Steller’s and Common Eider, Long-tailed duck and Velvet scoter are often caught in gillnets in the Baltic. Northern Fulmar and Great shearwater are troubled by demersal longline fishing off the coast of Western Scotland, Ireland and France.

It is especially worrying that already threatened species have yet another issue to contend with.

Promoting Change

BirdLife’s conservation team including their ‘Seabird Task Force’ are now working with fishermen to overcome the problem through the use of pioneering technology. But, bycatch of seabirds continues.

EU Legislation

Until very recently the management of fisheries focussed on quotas and the size of fish which may be caught. This approach completely ignored the problem of bycatch. In recognition of what was clearly a serious issue, the 2013 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) proposed an incentive scheme to encourage fishermen to adopt bycatch mitigation measures.

New measures to ensure regulated and controlled management of vessels against seabird bycatch were included in the proposals as well as new data collection rules obliging governments to annually determine the number of birds which have been accidentally caught within their fisheries.

The new rules originally included minimum standards to be achieved. However, it was proposed that Member States would be free to decide whether they would exceed these minimums. Sadly, representatives of EU governments which were on the EU's AGRIFISH council promptly removed the minimums and the possibility of regional enhancements.

Hope Remains

This action is a major setback for the birds but the regulations may still be instituted. In early October, the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament will vote on whether it agrees to delete the minimum standards from the regulations. It is expected that MEPs will rightly vote for improved regulations, and EU national governments will have to negotiate these with the

The future of many species could depend on the result of this vote. If minimum standards are not adopted across the EU, there is unlikely to be another chance to bring in new regulations for a decade. Many of the birds may not have that long.


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