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Stopping seabird deaths in European fisheries: will Ministers push the Commission to act?


20 Nov 2009


EU Priorities 2020
Health & Consumers

Brussels, 20 November 2009 – BirdLife International [1] calls on EU Fisheries Ministers meeting today in Brussels to give a strong political signal that Europe will act now to prevent the world's seabirds from sliding towards extinction due to the impact of fisheries.

European fisheries, both in EU waters and on the high seas beyond EU’s shores, take a massive toll of seabirds through falling foul of a variety of fishing gears. Every year in European waters alone, an estimated 200,000 seabirds are snared, entangled and drowned on longline hooks and in trawls and gill-nets, so-called seabird bycatch.

BirdLife is dismayed that a decade has passed since the EU first committed to produce a Community Plan of Action to stop such needless deaths, and that it has consistently failed to meet any of its own deadlines for action until now. [2]. Meanwhile, huge strides have been made by many other countries around the world in introducing simple technical fixes which prevent seabirds coming into contact with and being killed by fishing gears [3], with minimal disruption to the fishing activity of vessels.

BirdLife International urges the Ministers to call on the European Commission to propose early in 2010 an ambitious and robust Community Plan of Action [4] to reduce the incidental catch of seabirds in fisheries wherever EU vessels fish at home and overseas. Emergency measures are needed for the most threatened species like the Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus, listed as Critically Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and a victim of longline fishing in the Mediterranean.

Dr Euan Dunn, Head of the RSPB’s marine policy team (BirdLife in the UK), commented: “For far too long there has been paralysis at the heart of Europe over acting to prevent the fatal attraction of seabirds to fishing gears. As we fast approach 2010, the year in which Europe’s leaders committed to halt the loss of biodiversity on land and at sea, we call for urgent and concerted action to safeguard Europe’s seabirds”.

Tatiana Nemcova, BirdLife’s Senior EU Advocacy Officer concluded: “Tackling seabird bycatch is one of the vital steps for making the Common Fisheries Policy ecologically sustainable. Failing to propose action now to stop the needless deaths of seabirds in fisheries would send an unacceptable signal to the European public. It would mean that Ministers are not serious about a radical revamp of the currently discredited CFP”.

•Herlinde Herpoel, Media and Communication Manager at BirdLife International, +32 494 542 844,
•Tatiana Nemcova, Senior EU Advocacy Officer at BirdLife International, +32 2 238 50 93,

Notes for the editor
[1] BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation NGOs working in more than 100 countries and territories that, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting them. BirdLife is represented in 42 European countries and in all 27 Member States.
Sign up to BirdLife’s e-newsletter today to receive a monthly update on BirdLife’s activities on EU Policy at:
[2] In 1999 EU committed to the development of a Community Plan of Action in response to FAO’s International plan of Action. Despite numerous commitments in various EU policy documents, not progress has been made so far.
List of EU commitments:

• 2001: Preliminary draft Community Plan of Action from the Commission: the plan was rudimentary and unsatisfactory.

• 2001: COM(2001)162: Commission claims active participation in the development of an International Plan of Action on Seabirds. No further action aside from the above.

• 2002: COM(2002)186: 'In the coming months, the Commission shall devise… proposals to protect … sea birds from adverse effects of fishing'. Annex, p7: Implement Community Action Plans to manage sharks and protect seabirds … Propose legislation before end 2003'. No such plan adopted.

• 2006: SEC(2006)621: The Commission's biodiversity vision communication: "Action A3.6.2: Adopt Community Plans of Action for the conservation of … seabirds"

• 2008: COM(2008)187: Communication of the role of the CFP in implementing an ecosystem approach to marine management

..plan of action to protect seabirds will be published in 2009.

[3] Deaths of around 18,000 seabirds in the hake trawl fishery in South Africa have been reduced by some 85%, with a similar rate of reduction in the distant water longline fishery in 2008. In Chile, 100% of pelagic longline vessels have now adopted a suite of mitigation measures that are significantly reducing bycatch of albatrosses and petrels in the swordfish fleet. The use of bird-scaring lines in Norway is now more widespread on longline vessels, reducing the bycatch of fulmars.

[4] The EU seabird action plan should follow new international guidelines in addressing all fishing gears that take an incidental catch of seabirds – longlines, trawls and gill-nets. BirdLife has identified hotspots in Europe where vulnerable seabird populations are under siege from fisheries, notably the Mediterranean for longline fisheries and the Baltic for gill-net fisheries. The EU plan should also address the impact of the European Community’s distant water fleets, especially those of Spain, which target high value species like tuna, swordfish and toothfish in the south Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.


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