European Scrutiny Committee Contents

16 Reducing catches of sea birds in fishing gear



COM(12) 665

Commission Communication: Action Plan for reducing incidental catches of seabirds in fishing gears

Legal base
Document originated16 November 2012
Deposited in Parliament23 November 2012
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 28 November 2012
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussion in CouncilEarly 2013
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


16.1 According to the Commission, interaction between fisheries and seabirds is frequent and widespread, leading to increased seabird mortality (which poses a serious threat to many populations), and to reduced fishing productivity. It also says that the measures taken to protect against this have been largely ineffective. It has therefore sought in this Action Plan to provide a management framework aimed at minimising by-catches of sea birds to as low a level as practically possible, in line with the objectives of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and a plan adopted in 1999 by the Committee on Fisheries of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The current document

16.2 The Commission notes that the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has previously stated that there is a paucity of data on the distribution of seabird species, threat vulnerability, overall conservation status, and levels of incidental catches, reflecting a lack of systematic monitoring and reporting. However, it says that the available data indicates that seabird mortality is substantial in a number of areas within EU fisheries, perhaps amounting to about 200,000 birds a year, and that at least 49 species (25 in EU waters, and 24 elsewhere) — including a number of albatross species — give rise to conservation concerns, either globally or locally, with long-line and static lines presenting the greatest problem, as opposed to trawl and purse seine fisheries. It also notes that a number of mitigation measures have been developed, some of which have a broad applicability, whilst others are specific to the fishing method employed, with most of the measures have been to reduce by-catch in long-line fisheries. These include the avoidance of fishing in areas and/or times when seabird interactions are most likely; limiting the access for birds to baited hooks; deterring birds from taking such hooks; and reducing their attractiveness or visibility.

16.3 The Commission also highlights the policy framework for consideration of this issue. This includes the CFP itself, which seeks to minimise the impact of fishing on marine ecosystems; EU environmental legislation, including the Birds and Habitats Directives, and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (which form part of the EU's response to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity), and the EU's own Biodiversity Strategy to 2020; and external policy, notably the activities of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, and wider agreements, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (including a Convention on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels).

16.4 The Commission says that the objective of the Action Plan is to minimise and, where possible, eliminate the incidental catches of sea-birds, with priority action focussing on individuals belonging to at least the 49 threatened species by EU vessels operating in EU and non-EU waters, as well as by non-EU vessels operating in EU waters, with the aim for other sea-birds, where the populations are stable but by-catches are at levels which are a cause for concern, being to reduce the by-catch as a first step towards its elimination. In addition, the Plan has the following specific objectives:

  • to identify and rectify weaknesses and incoherencies in current measures in both EU and non-EU waters;
  • to consolidate and collect critical data to establish the extent and threat posed by sea bird by-catches, particularly for populations identified as being of conservation concern;
  • to minimise by-catch of species of conservation concern to levels which eliminate the threat through appropriate mitigation measures;
  • to address the lack of acceptance by fishermen that seabird by-catch is a problem, and the lack of an incentive for them to adopt mitigation measures;
  • to resolve outstanding difficulties with existing mitigation used in long-line fisheries, and the absence of effective mitigation measures for other fishing gears, particularly static nets.

16.5 These measures would be supported by increased implementation of fisheries management measures in Special Protection Areas created under the Birds Directive, with the demonstrable use of sea-bird friendly gear being a pre-condition for access to fishing opportunities, and the EU will also seek to secure corresponding action by the relevant international bodies. In addition, steps would be taken to better define the problem by assessing all available data; to improve research, training, education and awareness-raising; and to introduce biennial reports by Member States on the level of sea-bird by-catch by fishery and gear type, as well as the implementation and effectiveness of any mitigation measures.

The Government's view

16.6 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 28 November 2012, the Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Richard Benyon) says that the UK welcomes this proposal, which he describes as long overdue, and he is pleased to see that it reflects the framework of the international plan adopted in 1999 by the FAO Committee on Fisheries. He notes that this is a complicated issue, and says that the UK welcomes further discussion of the detail in order to assess fully the next steps required, adding that he is confident that the proposed objectives will address the wide range of actions needed to tackle this issue properly. In particular, the UK welcomes the actions designed to improve data and its collection, in order that the full extent of the problem can be better understood and mitigation measures designed which are proportionate, fit for purpose and flexible (i.e. targeted according to the fishery and geographical area).

16.7 The Minister observes that the Action Plan is expected to be delivered through various means, including a range of existing regulatory instruments within a reformed CFP, environmental legislation, international fishery legislation as well as other existing Conventions and Agreements, thereby ensuring that actions are streamlined within the context of the broader approach already taken for protecting other vulnerable species, and that additional burdens are minimised. He also suggests the reform of the CFP should present further opportunities to ensure measures are flexible, and can be focused at the appropriate regional level.

16.8 The Minister says that the Plan provides an overarching framework encompassing monitoring and mitigation measures across fisheries, with flanking measures including the provision of financial support through programmes such as the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and LIFE+, to develop and test new mitigation measures. He adds that, overtime, measures identified as being necessary by Member States would be incorporated into the new technical measures framework alongside the development and implementation of specific regional measures, and that by-catch monitoring will also be incorporated under the new Data Collection Framework for the CFP. He regards it as important that education and training programmes for fishermen to raise awareness and support effective implementation would be promoted through the Plan, adding that it will be vital to work closely with the industry from the start to ensure that the outcomes are effective.

16.9 The Minister also points out that, in drafting the Plan, the Commission undertook an impact assessment of the available options, notably (i) the status quo; (ii) an EU action plan for seabird by-catch; and (iii) a stand-alone regulation, and concluded that a non-legally binding action plan was most appropriate from a practical and financial point of view. However, he cautions that it is difficult to judge the financial implications for the UK and the EU until the extent of the problem is better understood, and that many actions required are voluntary, draw on existing practices, have zero-cost, or may simply not be relevant in UK waters. In the meantime, he points out that the Commission's impact assessment suggests that, if the recommendations for mitigation measures are taken up in EU waters, there would be some short-term direct costs incurred by fishermen in the regions concerned, but that these may be offset in some fisheries by benefits arising from reductions in bait loss and gear and catch damage. He also notes that, where mitigation measures are proposed, impact assessments would be carried out in line with existing practices, and suggests that, in non-EU waters, only marginal financial costs are anticipated as the focus would be on consolidation and improved implementation of existing measures rather than the introduction of new measures.

16.10 Finally, the Minister says that there are also likely to be some administrative costs for Member States in implementing the Plan, including any necessary additional research and monitoring, which will need to be explored as the next steps are considered. However, he suggests that, as the Plan seeks to provide a framework to better co-ordinate action, there are clearly synergies and offsets to take into account.


16.11 Although the concept of a by-catch is usually associated with the incidental taking of other species of fish, this Communication provides a timely reminder that sea-birds can also be affected in this way to a considerable degree, and draws attention to the steps which have already been taken to address this problem both within the EU and internationally, and to the need for further mitigating measures. It is therefore a document of some interest, which we think it right to draw to the attention of the House, but, as it is essentially setting a framework for future action, the merits of which can be considered as and when necessary, we see no need for further consideration by the House at this stage. We are accordingly clearing the document.

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Prepared 13 December 2012