Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 9

Submission from Birdlife International


    —  This submission concentrates on the UK's input into three international fora: the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO); the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP); and the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs).

    —  As a Member State of FAO, the UK must meet its international obligations on behalf of its Overseas Territories, as prescribed in the FAO International Plan of Action -Seabirds (IPOA-S).

    —  The UK should also lead on the development of a European Community Plan of Action, which should be initiated as a matter of high priority, particularly given repeated assurances by the European Commission that they intend to propose and legislate for such a plan.

    —  The UK is a critically important Party to ACAP, which is currently largely dependent on voluntary funds contributed by Parties in addition to budget contributions. It is vital that through DEFRA, the UK continues to contribute funds to ensure delivery of effective conservation action by ACAP.

    —  The effectiveness of the UK's input to ACAP would be greatly enhanced by the active engagement of Defra Fisheries Division, in addition to the Defra Wildlife Division.

    —  A range of steps should be taken by the UK Government to increase the capacity and ability for UK Overseas Territories (OTs) to participate fully in ACAP. These include: investigation of the feasibility of an appropriate level of fishery protection (patrols); part funding of an OTs coordination post based in the Falklands Islands; and provision of facilities and resources to enable remote OTs to participate fully in ACAP related activities in the UK and overseas.

    —  It is critical that the UK, as a member of the top five RFMOs (in terms of overlap between seabird distribution and longline fishing effort) attends and is proactive at key meetings of relevant RFMO scientific committees and bycatch working groups. Only by engaging pro-actively in this way will the UK influence upcoming initiatives to address seabird bycatch in key RFMOs.

    —  The UK should include bycatch experts within its RFMO delegations, and ensure the highest standard of scientific input.


  1.  BirdLife International was formed in 1994, reconstituted from the International Council for Bird Preservation. The organisation is a global Partnership of NGOs which work together to achieve the shared mission "to conserve wild birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, by working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources". The NGOs in 103 countries that form BirdLife International together represent the leading global network focusing on the conservation of birds and biodiversity. The Partnership is the world's foremost scientific authority on birds, and the network provides information on conservation and development issues to many governmental and inter-governmental institutions worldwide.

  2.  Given that seabirds often travel vast distances across the oceans, including the high seas, their protection cannot be addressed by national measures alone. To address the need for a coordinated international approach to seabird conservation, in 1997 BirdLife International established the BirdLife Global Seabird Programme. While the programme addresses a broad range of issues, its main coordinated focus to date, highlighted by BirdLife's "Save the Albatross" Campaign, is seabird mortality caused by longline and other fisheries. In broad terms, the programme focuses on local, regional and international advocacy to raise awareness of the issue within the fishing industry and wider community and to facilitate implementation of onboard mitigation measures to reduce the level of seabird mortality.

  3.  Seabirds are killed as bycatch in fisheries around the world, but the UK has a critical role to play in the conservation of albatrosses and petrels, as the UK Overseas Territories (OTs) of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and Tristan da Cunha are collectively home to more than 30% of the world's albatross populations. This includes seven species, including two endemic to Tristan da Cunha. Some albatross populations in South Atlantic OTs are the most rapidly declining in the world.

  4.  Bycatch of seabirds in longline fisheries occurs when birds, attracted to the bait set on the longline hooks, get caught on those hooks, dragged underwater and drowned. Each year, more than a billion hooks are set by the world's longline fleets, killing at least 300,000 seabirds, including about 100,000 albatrosses.

  5.  Largely as a result of this mortality, the albatross family (Diomedeidae) has the highest proportion of species under threat of global extinction of any bird family. Currently, 19 of 21 species are classified as globally threatened, seven of which are listed as Endangered and two as Critically Endangered. The proportion of albatross species threatened with extinction increased from around 30%-90% between 1994 and 2004. The ecology of albatrosses (a decade to reach breeding age and infrequent successful breeding thereafter) renders them particularly susceptible to increased adult mortality. The level of albatross mortality in both regulated and unregulated longline fisheries is causing dramatic declines in breeding populations. This poses the risk that populations of several of these iconic species will become extinct in the near future, unless international policy instruments translate into concerted action, in particular the widespread adoption of proven mitigation measures by the world's longline fishing fleets.


  6.  In 1996, an IUCN-The World Conservation Union resolution called for concerted action to reduce seabird mortality in fisheries. This led to the development of an FAO International Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries (IPOA-Seabirds), formally adopted by the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in February 1999. As a voluntary instrument, the IPOA sets forth a range of actions that states [b1]should take in order to reduce seabird mortality, primarily through each developing a National Plan of Action-Seabirds (NPOA-Seabirds).

  7.  The Falkland Islands is the only UK OT to have an adopted NPOA-Seabirds. The development of this plan was funded by the RSPB and undertaken by Falklands Conservation (the BirdLife Partner in the Falkland Islands). BirdLife is currently negotiating with the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands to conduct a FAO Assessment (as prescribed by IPOA-Seabirds) of the three South Georgia fisheries (Patagonian toothfish, icefish and krill) to determine the need for an NPOA-Seabirds.

  8.  The UK also has an obligation as a member of the European Union to support the development of a European Community Plan of Action -Seabirds (a generic NPOA-S covering the range of longline fisheries deployed by EU Member States). This would address the issue of seabird bycatch in Community Waters and external waters (other than UK OTs) where the UK has interests. The European Commission first mooted such a plan in 1999, but has since failed to galvanise the political will to take the issue forward, despite including this goal in annual workplans and strategies on a number of occasions.

  9.  The UK can and should lend powerful support to the development of such a plan: UK fisheries and wildlife agencies have extensive experience in developing and implementing ecosystem-based management expertise in fisheries managed by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). This experience, particularly in the South-West Atlantic, means that they are well placed to lead in the development of a European Community Plan of Action-Seabirds for both their domestic and external (distant water) fleets. This should be undertaken as a matter of high priority, particularly given repeated commitment by the EU to develop such a plan.


  10.  International concern over the plight of the albatross led to the negotiation of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels (ACAP), which came into force in 2004. This agreement was drafted under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) to provide an integrated approach to conserving Southern Hemisphere albatrosses and petrels. The species to which ACAP applies currently include all Southern Hemisphere albatrosses and seven species of petrel.

  11.  The stated objective of ACAP is to achieve and maintain a favourable conservation status for Southern Hemisphere albatrosses and petrels by addressing both land and at-sea based threats. The success of the Agreement will be largely dependent on the number of coastal states (ie, those with breeding populations of albatrosses and petrels) and key longline fishing states that accede to the Agreement and act on it.

  12.  Currently, 10 countries have ratified the agreement: Argentina; Australia; Chile; Ecuador; France; New Zealand; Peru; South Africa; Spain; and the United Kingdom (on behalf of metropolitan UK, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and British Antarctic Territory). Of these, only Spain is a solely "fishing" state, without jurisdiction over any land-based populations of ACAP species. Brazil has signed the agreement and indicated that it will ratify in the near future.

  13.  Through the input of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Defra (and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)) and FCO (Polar Regions), the UK has played a critical role in influencing and shaping the scientific agenda of ACAP. This is particularly evident in the development of the work programme (through the first ACAP Science meeting, chaired by Prof. John Croxall, BAS establishment of Working Groups, formulation of key resolutions, and through a member of the UK delegation (Dr. Mark Tasker, JNCC) being appointed the inaugural Chair of the Agreement's Advisory Committee, which is the scientific and technical body of the Agreement).

  14.  In addition to its budget contributions, over the last three years the UK has contributed considerable voluntary funds (2005-£70,000, 2006-£10,000 and a commitment to contribute a further £50,000 in 2007) to help deliver action on the early stages of the Agreement's work programme, and also to sponsor developing country delegates to attend meetings. These contributions have been critical in helping the fledgling Agreement to deliver conservation action and engage with Parties, Signatories and Range States, during the early stages of the Agreement when budget limitations could have greatly restricted its impact.

  15.  BirdLife commends these contributions, and feels strongly that continued contributions on this scale are essential to the successful delivery and expansion of the Agreement's work programme, particularly as the focus shifts from land-based issues to encompass at-sea threats (primarily bycatch) facing albatrosses and petrels.

  16.  To maximise the influence and effectiveness of the UK's input into the agreement, it is essential that, in addition to the current engagement of Defra Wildlife Division, Defra Fisheries becomes actively involved in the Agreement. The input of the Fisheries Division will be critical to addressing the complex issues surrounding fisheries-related seabird mortality.

  17. UK Overseas Territories

  A meeting (funded through the FCO Overseas Territories Environment Programme) of representatives of all relevant OT Governments, NGOs and other stakeholders was held in the Falkland Islands in March 2005, focusing on the responsibilities and obligations of parties to ACAP, and seeking to identify priorities for the management and conservation of albatrosses and petrels in South Atlantic OTs.

  18.  Among the key priorities agreed in the report of the meeting was a recognition that Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is of paramount importance for OTs, particularly Tristan da Cunha, where no effective fishery protection regime exists, and without which there is potential for substantial bycatch of ACAP listed species by IUU vessels. An appropriate fisheries protection regime is also essential to protect the fish stocks of the region and to support the economy of these islands through increased licence revenue from regulated fisheries. The UK government should investigate the feasibility of an appropriate level of fishery protection (patrols) to ensure that Tristan seabirds and fish stocks are protected and to help support the economy of the islands.

  19.  The report also advocated that Defra, as the UK lead department for ACAP, must become proactive in engaging all stakeholders for OTs, not least to ensure that realistic timeframes are established for data and information transfer and timely input into UK ACAP preparation meetings.

  20.  The need for a full-time post based in an Atlantic Overseas Territory (and managed by JNCC, UK), most likely the Falkland Islands, was another priority of the report. This would coordinate communications and input (including data collection and transmission) of the Atlantic OTs into ACAP processes and initiatives.

  21.  BirdLife International see this coordination post as one of the highest priorities for the UK, to ensure that it continues to lead the way with the scope and quality of input into the Agreement. BirdLife understands that Defra, the FCO and JNCC have committed financial resources to establish this post in the near future, and we hope to hear definitive confirmation of this soon.

  22.  Finally, the report recognised the importance of effective communication between the OTs to ensure knowledge exchange and efficient collation and transfer of data and information to feed into ACAP processes and initiatives. This is particularly critical in the case of Tristan da Cunha, where only a limited and unreliable channel of communication exists.


  23.  Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) are the bodies responsible for the management of high seas fisheries and highly migratory fish stocks. As such, they have a central role to play in the conservation of albatross and petrel species, managing a number of the fisheries that are known, or likely, to be killing significant numbers of albatrosses and petrels each year.

  24.  On behalf of Atlantic OTs, the UK is a member of three of the top five RFMOs (CCAMLR, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)), in terms of the overlap between their areas of jurisdiction and albatross and petrel distribution. The UK is also, through the EU, a member of the remaining top two RFMOs (the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna). As such, the UK has a key role to play in the management of UK flagged vessels fishing in these waters and in shaping the agenda of the EU's position within these RFMOs.

  25.  The role of UK scientists, fisheries managers and fishermen is internationally recognised as being critical in reducing seabird bycatch in the CCAMLR area, which cover Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters. CCAMLR has pioneered a suite of measures to reduce seabird bycatch, including technical measures (eg night setting, streamer lines, line weighting) and operational measures (eg closed seasons and 100% observer coverage) that, when used in combination, have created a truly "seabird friendly" fishery in some of the most critical areas for threatened albatrosses and petrels.

  26.  As a result of implementing these measures, in the 2006 fishing season not a single albatross was caught by legal longline vessels operating in CCAMLR waters, a remarkable achievement of international will and concerted action.

  27.  The UK recently announced funding of £60,000 for an assessment of the impact on seabirds of longline fishing within ICCAT waters. This will be a significant step toward to further understanding and mitigating seabird by-catch in longline fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean, which will assist in halting the rapid decline of many albatross and petrel populations in Atlantic OTs. It is hoped that this contribution by the UK will also set an example that will stimulate similar assessment in other key RFMOs.

  28.  It is now important that the achievements of CCAMLR and the ICCAT assessment are replicated in other RFMOs, as 84% of albatross distribution is outside CCAMLR waters. UK representatives have attended IOTC and ICCAT scientific meetings in 2006. The UK can further contribute to this end by continuing to attend and be proactive at key meetings of relevant RFMO scientific committees and bycatch working groups, by including bycatch experts within its delegations and ensuring the highest standard of scientific input. This will help the UK influence data collection protocols, the development of observer programmes and information on the spatial and temporal overlap of seabirds and fisheries.

  29.  BirdLife International would be happy to provide the Committee with any further information required.

January 2007

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