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Gillnets…

…Fatal Attraction for Seabirds

A study published today (1) by BirdLife scientists and marine biologist Dr Ramunas Zydelis (2), reveals that a staggering 400,000 birds are killed each year in gillnet fisheries. This number exceeds the estimated toll of bird deaths documented in longline fisheries. This is the first time the massive scale of this problem has been laid bare - making it clear that urgent action is needed to tackle it

The study, which is the first global estimate of seabird bycatch in gillnet fisheries, points out that the huge death toll should be viewed as a minimum estimate because of the gaps in data and other factors like ‘ghost fishing’, where lost fishing gear continues to capture birds

Dr. Zydelis stated: “Unlike longline and trawl fisheries, for which there are simple technical solutions available to reduce seabird bycatch, research into similar measures for gillnets has been very limited to date and further efforts are urgently required.”

Gillnets are fixed gear used across the world, largely in coastal fisheries, to catch a variety of different fish. They are generally made from fine nylon, making them virtually invisible underwater. Not surprisingly, this poses a particular problem for diving seabirds, which readily become entangled and drown when pursuing their prey underwater.

Species accidentally captured include threatened Humboldt penguins and long-tailed ducks, the endangered marbled murrelet, and more widespread species like common guillemot. Seabirds are not the only victims; gillnets also pose a major bycatch threat to dolphins, whales, seals and turtles.Bycatch levels of seabirds were found to be highest in the Baltic Sea, where an estimated 76,000 birds are killed each year, in Nordic regions and the Northwest Pacific Ocean. The review is far-reaching but data gaps remain in places where bycatch is suspected, including the South Atlantic, Mediterranean and Southeast Pacific, as well as Japanese and Korean waters.

While remedial action has been limited thus far, authorities are starting to take notice. The EU Plan of Action, launched last November (3) to minimise the bycatch of seabirds in fishing gears, highlighted gillnets as a priority for action. However, this plan is essentially voluntary, so BirdLife is calling for binding measures to be delivered under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) (4) to improve data collection and provide funding for research into how best to prevent seabirds being killed in gillnets.

Rory Crawford, senior policy officer at BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme, stated: “We’ve shown, through deploying our Albatross Task Force teams (5) on longline and trawl vessels around the world, that a collaborative approach, working closely with the fishing industry, can deliver big reductions in seabird bycatch.”

He continued: “BirdLife aims to work together with gillnet fishermen to develop workable solutions to this problem. It is imperative that the new EU Plan of Action opens up resources to find technical fixes and fill gaps in our knowledge. This is vital for species like Steller’s eider, long-tailed duck and velvet scoter, all of which are globally threatened and declining at an alarming rate in the Baltic Sea. Gillnet bycatch – the sleeping giant of seabird threats – must now be tackled with the utmost urgency.”

4th July 2014