International workshop on Marine Important Bird Areas in the Mediterranean

An international workshop on Marine Important Bird Areas in Malta and the Mediterranean will be held between the 23rd – 25th November 2015 by the LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project and BirdLife International. The workshop will be a key opportunity to gather knowledge and experience on protecting seabirds across national boundaries and international waters of the Mediterranean as well as set the way forward for international collaborations in protecting our common seabird heritage.

Within the Mediterranean seabirds face threats both on land and at sea, such as overfishing, by-catch, invasive predators, habitat destruction from poor planning and marine pollution. However only 4% of the Mediterranean is currently protected through the EU Natura 2000 network in Europe and the Barcelona Convention’s Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance.

At a regional scale there are still many important gaps to fill in the protected area network for seabirds, particularly for sites at sea. The meeting will enable scientists, nature conservationists and policy makers to further coordinate efforts for seabird protection at a regional scale through capacity building and the sharing of specialist knowledge.

The meeting will start with the presentation of a draft inventory of Marine Important Bird Areas for seabirds in Maltese and international waters identified under the LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project. This will be followed by sessions on knowledge sharing and gap analysis for the entire Mediterranean region, identifying sites within and beyond national jurisdiction, priority areas and policy mechanisms from across the Mediterranean.

Find out more, including to download the registration form, here.

Reblog: originally posted in LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project.

Stopping gillnet bycatch – how do we do it?

Spring is arriving all over Europe, and everyone is looking forward to longer days, more sunshine and wildlife waking up again. I love spring myself, and I’m not a glutton for punishment, but I have been casting my mind back to a snowy week in West Virginia, USA, at the end of January.

It’s not because I’m pining for the cold, but because it was then that we ran a workshop with the American Bird Conservancy focussing on the development of technical measures to reduce bycatch in gillnet fisheries. Working with researchers, fishermen, NGOs and sensory ecologists from across the world, we were looking to go beyond national and species-group silos to discuss innovative ideas to reduce gillnet bycatch – something which we are actively trying to tackle in Lithuania as part of this project.

The core purpose of the workshop was to come up with some specific project proposals to test ideas for bycatch mitigation, ideally with a cross-taxa focus – covering at least two out of three of birds, turtles and marine mammals. If you’re a bycatch geek, we hope to post a link to the full report of the workshop here soon – so keep your eyes peeled. In the meantime, here are few reflections from the workshop from me:

We need to work across species and sectors

Gillnet bycatch is a global issue of major concern – as sea turtle expert Bryan Wallace put it: ‘Net bycatch has the highest cumulative severity across air-breathing megafauna taxa of any major fishing gear category’. There is thus much to be gained by working across species groups. The literature on mitigating this problem is far richer for e.g. cetaceans than it is for seabirds. Ideas that have shown potential for one species (or group of species) could show promise for others – see, for example, John Wang’s work on net lighting for turtles – how might this apply to velvet scoter or bottlenose dolphins?

Something that came up time and again at the workshop was the need to work with fishermen. Fishermen understand their gear, have insights into interactions with non-target species and understand the practical realities of deploying mitigation measures in their fishing operations. This approach is central to what we are doing with the Seabird Task Force, and is an approach that BirdLife truly pioneered with the Albatross Task Force.

We need to better understand interactions with gillnets

Turtles, seabirds and marine mammals often become entangled in nets away from the human gaze, which means our understanding of how bycaught animals interact with gillnets is poor. Better understanding othese interactions – perhaps utilising advancing camera technology – will surely help us unlock solutions. It might allow us to key in on particular aspects of behaviour around nets to reduce the likelihood of entanglement.

We need to approach the problem from a sensory ecology perspective

Or in more straightforward language – we need to understand how species see, hear, feel (perhaps even smell and taste!) the world, so that we can design appropriate mitigation measures. I won’t spend much time on this here, but you can read a blog I wrote about it here – where you can also access the paper this blog was based on.

We need to get out there and test stuff!

The only way we will develop solutions is to get out on vessels and start testing some ideas! Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting slap-dash poor experimentation without proper thought. Well thought-out ideas, understanding the fundamentals of sensory ecology and thinking about the type of interaction an animal has with a net are all important – that’s why I mention them first – but we need to start getting our hands salty and seeing what works and what doesn’t. It’s in that spirit that the Seabird Task Force was founded, and it’s in that spirit that we hope to find solutions to the problem of gillnet bycatch in the Baltic – and beyond.

Lessons on gillnet bycatch: the US case study

Gillnet fisheries are not uniform in nature across the globe – different species are targeted via different mesh sizes, fishing techniques and positioning of the net in the water column.Gillnet bycatch is also not a problem restricted to a single country or even sea basin – there are recorded instances all over the world. What we hope, however, is that a suite of mitigation measures can be devised to reduce bird bycatch wherever gillnet fishing occurs. The work of the Seabird Task Force in Lithuania is our first step on this path.Some of the only research done to date on seabird bycatch mitigation in gillnet fisheries was done in the Puget Sound, USA, by Ed Melvin, a well-respected seabird bycatch specialist based at Washington State University. His work, back in the 1990s, resulted in the development and adoption of modified bycatch-reducing nets in the sockeye salmon fishery that operates in the Sound.

 In September 2014, Rory Crawford, Senior Policy Officer with the BirdLife International Marine Programme, and Rex Harrison, a salmon gillnet fisherman from Filey Bay in the UK, went to the Puget Sound on a ‘GAP2 Exchange’ to meet with sockeye fishermen, the management authorities, and Ed Melvin himself – all with a view to understanding more about what knowledge we might be able to take back and apply to other fisheries. This video, produced by GAP2, neatly summarises Rory and Rex’s trip, and highlights BirdLife’s approach to finding solutions to bird bycatch – one of collaboration and mutual understanding with fishermen.Many thanks to GAP2 for funding Rory and Rex’s exchange trip, and for promoting collaboration between fishermen, scientists, NGOs and policy makers.

Autumn and winter in the field


[Turimas lietuviy]

The Lithuanian Ornithological Society together with Birdlife international is involved in actions to reduce seabird bycatch in gillnet fisheries. Our field work this autumn and winter has focused on working together with local fishermen to trial some new types of fishing nets. Instead of using normal fishing nets we are trying modified gillnets for cod fisheries. The nets are modified by changing the upper part of the net to be more visible by using nylon.Diving birds should have better visualization while diving to see these nets.

The aim of the study is not to ban the coastal gillnet fishery but to reduce bird bycatch without altering the fishery significantly.

In Lithuania, the project team – three bird observers/specialists – have honed their skills to learn about fish species. The reason for this is that our team join the local cod fishermen on board their boats on trips to the open sea to collect data on fish catch and bird bycatch. Our team is counting the different fish species caught in our modified fishing nets and from regular nets, measuring and weighing the fish catch. The aim is to look if there is a difference in fish catch depending on net type.

In autumn, there is an intensive fishery for cod along the Lithuanian coast, and many coastal fishermen are targeting this species, so lots of our survey work was done during autumn. The winter period is more difficult as the fishermen are changing their fish target from cod to smelt. The weather conditions in winter also became problematic. When temperature falls below -10 C (14F) the Baltic Sea begins freezing over, and nets become covered by sea ice.

In our next blog post we will provide additional detail on our field season, preliminary findings and next steps.

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.