The EU is one step closer to eliminating seabird bycatch


15th March 2016

After years of dialogue, the European Commission has proposed that all relevant fishing vessels in the EU implement concrete measures to stop the accidental catching of seabirds in their fishing gear.

This month has been an historic one for European seabirds.  BirdWatch Ireland and BirdLife Europe welcome the new legislation, proposed on 11th March by the European Commission, which will make it mandatory for all fishing vessels in the EU that accidentally catch seabirds to put in place measures to prevent this.

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 in EU waters each year.  This includes species on the verge of extinction, such as the Balearic Shearwater.  However, until now the EU had not enacted any legally-binding legislation to solve this problem.  This proposed legislation is a game-changer.


Balearic Shearwater, a critically endangered seabird, found in Irish waters, which is severely threatened with extinction due to accidental killing by fishing vessels (Photo: Ricardo Guerreiro)
Balearic Shearwater, a critically endangered seabird, found in Irish waters,which is severely
threatened with extinction due to accidental killing by fishing vessels
(Photo: Ricardo Guerreiro)

In 2012, the European Commission published the Seabird Plan of Action in an effort to codify the actions needed from different national, regional and EU institutions to solve the issue of seabird bycatch across the EU.  The new legislation now proposed by the European Commission was one of the actions which was foreseen in the plan.

Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy at BirdLife Europe, stated: "The avoidable massacre of majestic seabirds as bycatch is a long-running scandal.  The problem has been virtually solved in many fisheries around the world.  This proposal can make the use of mitigation measures the norm in EU waters as well."

We particularly welcome measures being proposed for longline fisheries, which use extremely long fishing lines with baited hooks attached at intervals to catch fish.  BirdLife has already demonstrated globally that these solutions - including having scaring devices on boats, setting fishing lines at night, and adding weights to hooks to have them drop faster - help to minimise seabird bycatch.  We also believe these technical measures will encourage Member States to propose fisheries management measures for Natura 2000 sites.

Together with the recently proposed revision of the legislation that sets the framework for what data needs to be collected from fishing vessels, the momentum to achieve concrete results in reducing seabird bycatch across the EU is building.

The efforts do not end here.  The legislation will still need to be negotiated between the Council (i.e. Member States) and the European Parliament this year before it becomes enforceable law.  We hope both institutions remember what is needed to implement the ambitions of the Common Fisheries Policy and ensure this new legislation supports a good management of EU fisheries.






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