BirdLife International presented the European Parliament with alarming data about the extent of seabird bycatch globally and in Europe yesterday. At the same time, BirdLife welcomed the long awaited first steps of the European Commission to tackle the problem by developing a Community Plan of Action on seabirds with the intention of completing it next year.
“With 300,000 seabirds, including about 100,000 albatrosses, dying annually as bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries – which include many vessels operating under EU flags – the European Community (EC) has the responsibility to put in place effective measures to tackle this readily solvable problem” said Dr Euan Dunn, Head of the Marine Policy at the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), in a presentation at the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament.
Without urgent action on the ground, Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus – numbering just over 2,000 breeding pairs and experiencing a steady decline in recent years – is threatened with extinction in the next few decades. Bycatch in longlines is thought to be the major threat for the species, most likely causing the death of hundreds of birds annually. The recent case of 54 Balearic and 18 Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus being caught on a single longline close to Medes Island, off the Catalan coast, illustrates the gravity of the problem”, Dr Dunn added.
BirdLife International’s message to the European Parliament is that it is easy to eliminate seabird bycatch by applying simple and inexpensive measures on deck. BirdLife also made the case that it is essential for the Community Plan of Action to be robust and underpinned by legislation, enforcement and further research. Measures to prevent seabirds being killed need to be built into fishing regulations just as routinely as, for example, mesh-size restrictions to conserve fish stocks.
Dr Dunn concluded: “The Commission is on the right track, but it remains to be seen if it will present a Plan next year that will really halt this needless slaughter of seabirds or just propose a toothless document. This is a golden opportunity for the Commission to demonstrate its commitment to environmentally-sensitive fisheries management and to halting biodiversity decline by 2010.”