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Two million EU seabirds killed

…in a decade

Fishing gear in EU waters is estimated by BirdLife International and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) to have killed two million seabirds in the past ten years, more than the toll recorded from all the European oil tanker disasters put together as far back as the Torrey Canyon in 1967.

Today, World Oceans Day, this bleak statistic injects new urgency into a 23,000-strong petition being presented in Brussels by the RSPB and BirdLife International to Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Maritime affairs and fisheries. The petition calls for the urgent delivery of the EU's disastrously overdue Seabird Action Plan to protect Europe's seabirds from their fatal attraction to baited hooks and fishing nets. The Commissioner is also being alerted to the situation in her native Greece where seabirds are being killed in fishing gear.

It is estimated that 90,000 birds drown annually through entanglement in gill-nets in the Baltic and North Seas but the actual mortality is feared to be twice this high. In a single Spanish longline fishery off western Ireland, another 50,000 seabirds die every year in a lethal cat’s cradle of longline hooks.

Many of the species affected are protected by European law and in rapid decline, not least Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus, a bird which increasingly ranges north into the English Channel, and estimated to be facing extinction within a human generation unless we can halt its losses.

Commissioner Damanaki will be asked to ensure that the European Commission brings forward a robust action plan by the end of the year, with emergency measures for the most threatened species. The plan also needs to come with funding for research into preventative measures, for raising awareness of the problem across the industry and for collecting data on so-called seabird 'by-catch'.Dr Euan Dunn, RSPB's Head of Marine Policy, said: "Simple technical fixes, highly effective at keeping seabirds away from key fishing gears, are now common knowledge and are already hard-wired into fishing fleets from South Africa to Chile, but tragically not in Europe. As long ago as 2000, the European Commission promised to take concerted action to halt the slaughter of seabirds by its own fishing vessels, at home and abroad, but ten years and two million seabird corpses later, we are still waiting for any action. It was not until last year that they committed to a formal plan and now it is vital that it emerges soon, has teeth and is not just a wish-list."

Dr Euan Dunn added: "We need to work with fishermen from the Baltic to the Mediterranean to get these ready-made solutions on-board, backed up by legislation where necessary. The Plan also needs to address the impact of the EU’s distant water fleets which target high value species like tuna and swordfish on the high seas."

The RSPB and BirdLife International hope to galvanise the efforts and goodwill of Commissioner Damanaki. "The science is there; the solutions are there. All we need is for the Commission to finally take action", said Nathalie De Snijder, Marine Advocacy Officer at BirdLife International.

4th July 2014