Gillnets fatal for seabirds

16 May 2013
The new study reports that more birds are killed in gillnets than in longline fisheries

The new study reports that more birds are killed in gillnets than in longline fisheries

A study published today reveals that 400,000 birds are killed each year in gillnet fisheries, exceeding the estimated toll of bird deaths documented in longline fisheries.

This is the first global estimate of seabird bycatch in gillnet fisheries, and the study’s authors say that these figures 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.

Marine biologist Dr Ramunas Žydelis, who published the study with BirdLife scientists said, “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 generally made from fine nylon, making them virtually invisible underwater which poses a problem for diving seabirds, which become entangled.

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 EU Plan of Action, launched last November 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) 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 said, “Gillnet bycatch – the sleeping giant of seabird threats – must now be tackled with the utmost urgency.”


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