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EU Plans Action To Save Seabirds


EU - Seabirds often lead fishermen to productive fishing grounds; in return, they can often take advantage of the fishermen's operations to get an easy meal. A happy arrangement for all concerned, you might think. Not so, however for the birds can become caught in fishing gear and will frequently die as a result.

A report published last week by Birdlife International and the RSPB said that two million seabirds had been killed in a century due to fishing gear.

In an attempt to deal with this problem, the European Commission is proposing a European Union action plan to limit these incidental catches of seabirds by reducing as much as possible the interaction between seabirds and fishing gear. This initiative should benefit fishermen and seabirds alike, as it should curb – or indeed eliminate – the environmental impacts of fishing and at the same time lessen the seabirds' impact on the productivity and profitability of fishing operations.

As a first step towards drawing up the action plan, the Commission asked the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to provide a general assessment of the situation in EU waters, identifying the main areas affected, as well as the main types of fisheries responsible for seabird mortality.

It therefore intends to start with the most problematic areas in which longliners and gill nets operate. These include fisheries in the Mediterranean, North and Baltic seas and off the southwest of Ireland. For example, in the Mediterranean the Cory's shearwater is one of the species most frequently caught in longliners, while threatened species such as the Balearic and Yelkouan shearwater are also affected by fishing operations. Meanwhile, a recent comprehensive study in Baltic and North Sea waters strongly suggests that gill nets are a major threat to diving seabirds (such as shearwaters, cormorants, shags, auks, sea ducks, divers and grebes).

The problems stemming from incidental seabird catches have long been a source of concern to the EU and the wider international community. The Commission has consistently advocated seabird protection measures at regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). Furthermore, it represents the EU on the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Committee on Fisheries in all matters related to the International Plan of Action for Reducing the Incidental Catches of Seabirds in Longlining, which is now set to expand to cover other fishing gear. The experience gained from this work, the ICES assessment and a growing understanding of the problem in general have together proven invaluable to the Commission in its efforts to devise a workable proposal for an action plan.

However, the Commission believes that the plan could benefit from further enrichment through the expertise and input that stakeholders have to offer. To that end, it is launching a public consultation to gauge their views. Stakeholders will be asked to comment on a number of potential fields of action which the Commission has pinpointed and to come forward with ideas for other measures they believe could be introduced in the proposal.

In parallel to the consultation a study will be conducted to deliver recommendations on best practices and look at the economic, social and environmental impacts of measures to reduce incidental catches. The results of both the consultation and the study will then feed into the action plan, which is scheduled for adoption next year.

Further Reading

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