Natura 2000 Award - Fishermen and seabirds, allies for the sea
Commissioner Sinkevičius and Luna Milatović presented the Marine conservation award 2022 to Ariel Brunner (Birdlife Europe representing SPEA) and, on screen, Ana Almeida (SPEA), for their application “Fishermen and seabirds, allies for the sea”.
About the project
SPEA - Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves
Main N2000 site
Ilhas Berlengas (PTZPE0009)
Seabirds usually feed in areas that are rich in fish and so they frequently encounter commercial fishing boats and, in European seas, 200 000 birds are accidently caught in commercial fishing gear each year. Being incidentally caught in the boats’ nets or hooks (“by-catch”) is a major threat to seabirds, and many end up drowning. The problem has also negative impacts on fishing activity; it is time-consuming and damages fishing gear. In European waters alone, 200 000 birds are caught like this every year.
The Ilhas Berlengas in Portugal is a unique Natura 2000 site where seabirds - including Cory’s shearwaters, Madeiran-storm petrels and gulls - raise their young. One of these species is the critically endangered Balearic shearwater which is at risk of being accidently caught since fisheries is one of the main economic activities in the area.
Funded by the EU LIFE programme and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, and working closely with the fishing community, the nature conservation NGO SPEA (BirdLife’s partner in Portugal) identified the most problematic fishing gear and the seabird species most susceptible to accidental catches. On this basis, they developed and trialled different mitigation measures. One of these measures, the “scary bird decoy”, proved particularly effective. Attached to the vessel, this device is kept moving by the wind and movement of the boat, simulating the presence of a predator.
After being tested for long hours at sea, the results were unanimous: the scary bird device kept seabirds away, reducing the likelihood that they would be caught. Happily, it was found to be particularly effective for the Balearic shearwater. Fishermen helped fine-tune the device, which they found to have many advantages. Cheap and easy to produce, easy to assemble and repair, it did not interfere with fishing dynamics, saved time otherwise lost removing birds from fishing gear, and reduced damage to nets. The scary bird is now used by all fishermen involved in the trials and a new cooperation project is underway to extend its use to more fishing vessels.
On winning the Award, Ana Almeida of SPEA said, “It’s a big honour to be the winner. It’s recognition of the work that we do tackling seabird bycatch for the last 10 years with fishing communities in Portugal. It’s also a huge incentive for us to take this measure and other mitigation measures to other areas.”