Seabird Task Force 2014-2017 report released

In 2014 BirdLife International and its Partners in Lithuania (LOD) and Spain (SEO/BirdLife) launched the Seabird Task Force, with generous funding from Fondation Segré. The Task Force is a team of bycatch experts who worked alongside fishermen to understand the problem of seabird bycatch and work towards solutions (partnership for people and nature). The following is a detailed technical reporting describing our main findings.

The full report is available in high resolution here: Seabird Task Force Report 2014_2017

and lower resolution for slower connections here: Seabird Task Force Report 2014_2017_lowres

BirdLife’s press release can be found here

Unique collaboration between experts and fishermen tackles seabird bycatch in Europe in valuable report

Across the world, seabirds are caught in many different kinds of fisheries and fishing gears, including in longlines and gillnets. These unintentional deaths, known as ‘bycatch’, are a major threat to seabirds; BirdLife estimates that 200,000 seabirds die annually in gillnets and longlines across Europe. The bycatch of these species and the poor management of the fisheries in relation to this issue are an infringement of the Birds Directive.  In 2014, the Seabird Task Force (STF) was founded as a first of its kind in Europe, building a collaboration between bycatch experts and fishermen to tackle bycatch. After three years, the report comes at an opportune moment when the European Parliament will be deciding on October 10th a position on how to manage EU fishing fleets to tackle bycatch.  

In 2016, in an effort to regulate bycatch of seabirds, amongst many other impacts of the fishing fleet, the European commission proposed a new regulation to manage fisheries that would establish baseline technical solutions in some sea basins to tackle the incidentally catching of seabirds. Technical solutions already exist for some fishing gears and have been found to prevent or dramatically reduce the incidental catches of seabirds. However, implementing these solutions and monitoring their effectiveness has been very slow in the EU. Furthermore, research and development to identify solutions for gillnets has been minimal.

During the last 3 years, the Seabird Task Force has worked directly with fishermen in order to understand seabird bycatch, adapting known solutions to longline vessels in Spain and testing experimental solutions in gillnets in Lithuania.

Seabird Task Force Report 2014_2017. BirdLife InternationalIn Catalonia (Spain) the Seabird Task Force, together with SEO (BirdLife in Spain) focused their work on small and medium scale longline fishing fleets. Demersal longline fishing, where fish hooks are set and sink to the seafloor, targeting species like Hake and Seabream, are particularly risky for threatened seabird species such as the endemic and long-lived shearwater species. The STF estimates that each year in the peak bycatch season alone, 500 shearwaters (of which 300 are the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater) are killed in Catalonia. The birds dive for the baits attached to hooks and become hooked themselves, leading to their death or injury. The STF worked on-board with fishermen to first identify the most suitable mitigation measures and worked to assess and adapt these possible “solutions” together. Based on the monitoring data, a toolbox of technical solutions are needed for this fleet to reduce bycatch, which could include gear modifications to make the hooks sink faster, and fishing at night when birds are less active. Further testing of more experimental solutions, such as the vertical longline system is needed to further adapt to the Catalan fleet.

In Lithuania the STF, together with LOD (BirdLife in Lithuania), concentrated their work on developing experimental gillnet mitigation measures, since gillnets are estimated to catch 76,000 seabirds in the Baltic each year and technical, gear-based solutions do not currently exist for this fishing gear. Diving seabirds, such as seaducks, are not able to see the fine nylon of fishing nets, so they get caught in nets and drown. The Seabird Task Force tested high contrast panels in the hope that birds would perceive the net and avoid becoming entangled. The results suggest that around 1000-1500 seaducks are caught each year in Lithuania in the small scale fleet. Although the experimental tests showed that panels did not reduce bycatch of birds the results have been useful in informing the next phase of work which will involve testing aversive stimuli, including lights.

Implementing, monitoring and testing solutions is vital to ensure that mitigation can work. However, it is not enough to stop seabird bycatch. These measures need to be supported by a robust regulation that ensures effective management of the fleet, and enables implementation, monitoring and testing solutions.

Marguerite Tarzia, European Marine Conservation Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia said: “Seabird bycatch is a major threat to the survival of seabirds; and this report helps demonstrate that the problem is really significant in Europe as well. The work carried out by the Seabird Task Force shows that by implementing, monitoring, and testing solutions on the boats together with fishermen, we can solve seabird bycatch while they continue fishing.”

Bruna Campos, EU Marine and Fisheries Policy OfficerBirdLife Europe and Central Asia said: ”It is clear from this report that we need better management of the EU’s fishing fleet and on the 10th of October, if the European Parliament does not vote for baselines to tackle seabird bycatch, they will be giving a death sentence to many seabird species across Europe..” 

The work carried out by the Seabird Task Force (STF) was made possible thanks to the generous support of Fondation Segré. ENDS

For further information, please contact:
Marguerite Tarzia, European Marine Conservation Officer

BirdLife Europe and Central Asia

+44 (0)1223 747 587

Bruna Campos, EU Marine and Fisheries Policy Officer

BirdLife Europe and Central Asia

+32 (0) 478 88 6420

[1] The Seabird task force report is available on the Seabird Task Force website

RSPB- Global seabird appeal-

On behalf of the RSPB – click here to read the information directly on RSPB’s website:

Our appeals

Global Seabird appeal

Every year, hundreds of thousands of seabirds drown needlessly in fishing gear


A fishing catastrophe is driving seabirds to extinction. You can help save hundreds of thousands of seabirds from drowning needlessly every year.

Imagine diving into the sea, only to find yourself trapped beneath the surface, never to take another breath. That’s how hundreds of thousands of seabirds are dying every year, when they dive for food and get caught in fishing gear.

Known as ‘bycatch’, this is a global issue that has dragged the most iconic group of seabirds, the albatrosses, among others, into the depths of an extinction crisis. But you can help prevent these tragic losses, by donating to the RSPB’s Global Seabird Appeal today.

What we’ll be doing

Your donation is critical for two RSPB-led projects that protect seabirds from fishing gear.

Firstly, you can help to build on the Albatross Task Force’s (ATF) decade of progress, successfully protecting albatrosses in the Southern Hemisphere. Secondly, you can help the BirdLife Seabird Task Force – a joint RSPB-BirdLife International project – follow in the ATF’s footsteps as we seek to tackle a major emerging threat to the world’s seabirds – gillnet fisheries.

Nobody wants to see seabirds drowning. Especially the world’s fishermen. That’s why we’re collaborating with them, working shoulder-to-shoulder to overcome this global crisis.

Turn the tide with the Albatross Task Force

Interview with the RSPB’s Oli Yates

For 10 years, the Albatross Task Force (ATF) has been working in eight different countries, taking to the oceans in the name of scientific research, tackling 10 of the most deadly fisheries for albatrosses in the world.

Our dedicated instructors work alongside fishermen in notoriously difficult conditions, even battling the tempestuous South Atlantic Ocean. It’s a gruesome part of day-to-day life to see the corpse of a giant bird, with a wingspan of over three metres, being hauled on deck.

But, by working with fishermen who want to protect these wonderful birds, and by utilising many years of knowledge on how to solve this problem, the ATF have focused on three methods that are highly effective:

  • colourful streamers that scare away seabirds
  • weights to sink dangerous hooks out of reach of the birds
  • setting the lines at night when fewer seabirds are active.

These methods have been adopted in 7 out of 10 of our priority fisheries. It’s huge progress in a short period of time. But, still, albatrosses are fighting extinction. Your donation is crucial for the ATF’s next five years, when you can help to strengthen and broaden our work.

The birds affected

Velvet scoter drowned in gillnet
Black-browed albatross drowned in fishing gear
Black-browed albatross chick

Gillnets – a catastrophe for seabirds

While albatrosses are needlessly drowning due to longline and trawl fisheries, gillnetting is an even more deadly form of fishing that, worldwide, is killing yet more seabirds.

Gillnets are made from a fine nylon that’s essentially invisible underwater. The fishermen only want to catch fish – but they’re also entangling over 400,000 seabirds a year, including guillemots, razorbills and long-tailed ducks.

You can help by supporting BirdLife International’s Seabird Task Force with your gift today. Your donation today can help us:

  • pinpoint the most dangerous fisheries
  • find ways to make gillnets more visible for seabirds
  • work with fishermen to find the best methods
  • put our research into practice worldwide.

As we’ve seen in the achievements of the ATF, this is truly a model of success. It means we can go to fisheries across the globe and show them that we can be trusted, that our methods work, and that our only agenda is to stop seabirds from dying.

But, for the inspiring work of our Task Forces to continue over the next five years, they desperately require funding. To save the lives of hundreds of thousands of seabirds, we need your help.

Donate now

Donating online is easy and ensures that more of your money is used for conservation.

Donate now

Or you can also donate by:

Telephone: Our Supporter Services team can also take donations over the phone. Call 01767 693 680, 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday

Post: We can accept donations by cheque too. Please make cheques payable to The RSPB and send them to: Global Seabird appeal, The RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL

Why we need your help

More than 100,000 albatrosses still die in fishing gear each year, but the Albatross Task Force has developed methods to stop this. Meantime, gillnets entangle over 400,000 seabirds a year, but fishermen are desperate for a solution to these unnecessary deaths. Please help to get our sealife off the hook.

£10could pay towards equipment for a Task Force instructor
£25could pay towards sending a Task Force instructor to sea for a day
£50could pay towards our vital advocacy work.

Donate today

Global Seabird appeal

A fishing catastrophe is driving seabirds to extinction. You can help save hundreds of thousands of seabirds from drowning needlessly every year.

Feeding back to fishermen and gearing up for another field season!

To be effective, our seabird bycatch teams all over the world need to be in regular contact with fishery stakeholders. Of course, spending time on boats and in port means we frequently speak to fishermen, but it’s important to take the opportunity to step back and talk about some of the big issues with fishermen, scientists and national fisheries departments. The Seabird Task Force in Lithuania did just that this past summer, by holding a workshop to present our preliminary project results on gillnet bycatch mitigation and plan the next steps for our field work – which is beginning again as we write!

At the workshop, the Task Force team presented the results of our winter 2015/16 mitigation trials. A total of 78 fishing trips were conducted to compare the levels of bycatch in standard nets with our experimental nets, carrying black and white ‘net panels’.  Both fishermen and our observers collected data on fish and bird catch to help us test whether the panels could reduce bird bycatch while maintaining the catch of target fish.

During this field season, participating fishermen caught 89 birds, with the most common species being the Velvet Scoter. Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated Diver and Common Scoter. As is often the case with seabird bycatch, it was highly variable day to day – many days could pass with no birds caught; on one day, a single trip caught 36 birds and just 9 kg of fish- demonstrating the severity of bird bycatch and the need to find solutions!

Our high contrast panels have shown promising preliminary results- while we need to carry out more trips to be able to have stronger statistical evidence to back up our findings- there are indications that nets carrying panels catch fewer birds. The raw data also indicate that most birds where caught in water depth of 10 meters. Very interestingly, the fish catch in the nets with high contrast panel increased compared to the normal nets. We hope to post more details of our analysis on this blog shortly! These results were well received during the workshop by both fishermen and government representatives.

One of the participating fisherman also gave a presentation and he shared his own positive experience of using the panels, collaborating with LOD and his hopes for working towards a reduction in seabird bycatch. In the last session of the day, the Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Fisheries) provided a presentation on their vision for bycatch reduction and opportunities for funding- providing the framework for a very useful discussion on the next steps for this work. The team outlined that in the next field season we will keep testing the same panels more widely and will examine the utility of new methods, such as underwater net lights. As this work is now underway, look out for another blog soon about what we’ve been up to this winter!

Seabird Task Force in Europe established

The European Seabird Task Force is BirdLife’s new team of seabird bycatch experts. We are working with fishermen across Europe to tackle seabird bycatch.

The establishment of the Seabird Task Force means that BirdLife International and our Partners can actively contribute to the understanding of seabird bycatch within Europe and begin to develop and adapt solutions to this problem with fishermen across the region. The Seabird Task Force is the European incarnation of the successful ‘Albatross Task Force’, a team which has been working collaboratively with fishermen to tackle seabird bycatch in southern Africa and South America. Around the world, our approach is simple and all about collaboration- we work with local fishermen to understand the seabird bycatch problem and develop solutions together. This approach builds mutual respect between the team and the fishermen, and allows an effective collaboration to take place to solve a shared environmental and economic problem.As the coordinator of the Seabird Task Force, I am working with a diverse team of seabird, bycatch and policy experts and our on-board observers/instructors (see our team) to tackle this problem. Over the next two years, we will be working in both Spain (Mediterranean) and Lithuania (Baltic Sea). In each country we are working with small, artisanal fishing boats, however we are focused on two different fishing gears-demersal longlines and and bottom set gillnets.

Within the Spanish Mediterranean, we have prioritised working with fishermen using demersal longlines. Many of these small fishing vessels work in the same area as the main Spanish feeding grounds of the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater, and we know that this species is just one which has been caught unintentionally by fishermen. Cost effective and efficient solutions exist for this type of fishery, and once we understand the problem in greater detail, our team will be working with fishermen to understand what methods could work best on-board their vessels.

In Lithuania, small artisanal fishermen use gillnets to catch cod, at the same time that hundreds of thousands of migrating sea ducks visit the Baltic Sea. As they dive and forage underwater many sea duck species are particularly susceptible to being caught in these nets. An estimated 76,000 seabirds are believed to be caught by this type of fishing gear in the Baltic each year. In comparison to longlines, we do not have proven methods to stop seabird bycatch in gillnets, therefore our team- together with local fishermen- will be at the forefront of trialling innovative solutions to see if we can reduce the number of birds caught in nets.

I hope that you will follow our project with interest. If you would like to subscribe to these updates, please register below. Our blogs are available in English, Spanish and Lithuanian. Please do contact us if you would like further information on the project.