(Bruna Campos 14 August 2017; Photo David Grémillet )
Bruna Campos explains why a ‘sea change’ in policy is needed to protect thousands of Europe’s seabirds from the threat of incidental bycatch in fishing gears.
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”, Shakespeare famously wrote – and though the great playwright was reflecting upon the power of princes, at BirdLife these words turn our thoughts to the plight of petrels…and shearwaters, and the seabirds that together carry the unwanted crown anointing them the most threatened bird group in the world.
Marine biodiversity is facing enormous pressure from a wide range of human activities that lead to habitat destruction and pollution. And a huge part of the problem is seabird ‘bycatch’, with an estimated 200,000 seabirds accidentally caught and killed by commercial fishing hooks and nets each year. Many of Europe’s 82 seabird species are at risk, but some species seem to be far more susceptible than others – for example, Steller’s and Common Eider, Long-tailed duck and Velvet scoter are regularly caught in gillnets in the Baltic, while Northern Fulmar and Great shearwater are menaced by demersal longline fishing off the coast of Western Scotland, Ireland and France. It is particularly alarming that already threatened species are being put into further peril; such is the case for several seaduck species (in dramatic decline in recent years) and also for the Balearic shearwater – Europe’s most threatened seabird.
“…an estimated 200,000 seabirds [are] accidentally caught and killed by commercial fishing hooks and nets each year.”
Out at sea, BirdLife’s conservation team and our ‘Seabird Task Force’ are working with fishermen to overcome practical challenges through pioneering technical innovation. Nonetheless, bycatch of seabirds – and also many marine mammals and sea turtles – continues despite existing EU regulations. Improvements are clearly needed here on dry land before we will see a sea change in our fisheries.