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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 16 November 2012

Fisheries: Commission proposes action plan to protect seabirds

The European Commission today adopted an Action Plan to address the problem of incidental catches of seabirds in fishing gears. Scientific evidence has shown that high numbers of seabird species including albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, auks, sea ducks and divers are being caught in fishing gear every year. Measures taken so far to protect seabirds from being entangled in fishing gear have been ineffective. The new Action Plan sets up a management framework to minimise seabird bycatch to the lowest levels practically possible. It focuses on long line and static net fisheries where seabird bycatch are known to be highest, although other gears such as trawls and purse seines are also covered by the plan. It entails a wide range of elements under 30 recommended actions that are a combination of binding and non-binding measures. The rules will apply to EU fishing vessels inside and outside EU waters as well as non-EU vessels operating in EU waters.

The plan is drawn up in accordance with the objectives and principles of the on-going Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform: it promotes ecosystem management, ie covering all components of the ecosystem. It also puts forward a "bottom-up", regionalised approach whereby more responsibility is given to Member States and stakeholders to implement appropriate measures to tackle fisheries problems.

Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said: "We see today's Action Plan as a platform for giving a clear and comprehensive picture of the current situation and progress needed in order to achieve coherent and effective management to minimise seabird bycatch."

The plan's 30 recommended actions are a combination of binding and non-binding measures. Specific short-term actions include:

  • more rapid implementation of fisheries management measures to protect seabirds within Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated under the Birds Directive;

  • undertaking more extensive monitoring of fisheries where information on seabird bycatch is lacking or uncertain;

  • implementing proven mitigation measures (such as the use of bird-scaring lines and acoustic deterrents or the use of weighted lines) in long line fisheries in EU and non-EU waters where bycatch is highest;

  • and instigating research into the development of practical and efficient mitigation measures particularly in static net fisheries.

In the longer-term, the goal is to incorporate the mitigation and monitoring elements into the new frameworks for technical measures and data collection being developed in the context of the reform of CFP and provide necessary funding to support this under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

Some of these measures will be implemented at EU level while others need voluntary action by Member States or must be endorsed by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) in fisheries outside EU waters. The Action Plan foresees both actions that can be implemented immediately and others that need a longer term commitment based on available evidence and scientific advice. The success of the Plan depends on the collective contributions of Member States, fishermen and NGOs.


Interactions between fisheries and seabirds are frequent and widespread leading to levels of incidental seabird mortality which pose a serious threat to many seabird populations and which have an adverse effect on fishing productivity and profitability.

The International Council for the Exploration of Sea (ICES) estimates conservatively that more than 200,000 seabirds die every year as a result of contact with the EU fishing fleet in EU and non-EU waters. At least 49 species of seabirds that are incidentally caught are classified under serious conservation concern. These include the Balearic shearwater, Sooty shearwater, Yelkouan sheatwater and Audouin's gull incidentally caught in long line fisheries in EU waters as well as the Steller's eider, red-throated and black throated divers, Slavnoian grebe and smew which are bycaught in static net fisheries, primarily in the Baltic Sea.

Current management measures to protect seabirds are contained in a wide range of fisheries and environmental legislation as well as in a number of international Conventions and Agreements. These measures, however, have been proved largely ineffective in reducing seabird bycatch except in some isolated cases in distant waters such as the Antarctic and the Falkland Islands. Therefore the Commission believes that more action is needed to address this problem.

The full list of actions proposed and more information can be found here:

Contacts :

Oliver Drewes (+32 2 299 24 21)

Lone Mikkelsen (+32 2 296 05 67)

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