Bycatch, the accidental capture of a non-target
species in fisheries, is both a common and universal phenomenon.
Between a quarter and a fifth of all fish caught across
the world is simply thrown overboard- that is the equivalent
of 20 million tonnes of marine life discarded every year.
Trawls, seines, hooks and lines, gillnets and driftnets
and even lines of pots and creels take their toll on all
sorts of animals- marine mammals, Sea Birds, Turtles and
Sharks. Worst affected are long-lived, slow breeding species
like Cetaceans, Seals, Turtles and Albatrosses. Indeed,
19 of 22 species of Albatross are threatened with extinction,
and the primary threat they face comes from longline fisheries.
Moreover, it is not just the species that suffer; entire
marine ecosystems are damaged as they lose an important
element of their structure. In the face of this serious
threat, CMS has taken a lead and it’s Parties have
endorsed resolutions and recommendations at the last four
Conferences (Cape Town 1999, Bonn 2002, Nairobi 2005 and
Rome, 2008) calling for immediate action by the international
community to address the problem and improve fishing practices
to reduce the unnecessary death of so many non- target species.
In addition, there are several CMS-related Agreements and
Memoranda of Understanding dedicated to species for which
bycatch is a major issue.
It is only recently that the extent of the problem of by
catch has become apparent. Our knowledge is improving as
more data are collected and analysed and coverage by observers
of fishing fleets increases. But the data obtained paints
a gloomy picture as the conservation status of key species
such as the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exullans)
and Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis)
remains alarming - the latter is near extinction.
Another cause for concern is the fate of Marine Turtles.
Across their entire migratory range bycatch is a problem
but at least global action is now being taken. It is estimated
that since 2000, each year thousands of Harbour Porpoises
(Phocoena phocoena) have died as a result of bycatch
in North Sea fisheries alone. Losses of this magnitude are
unsustainable and populations will only recover when bycatch
levels fall drastically.
Further species face similar threats but have yet to attract
the same level of attention to their plight. The total annual
bycatch of marine mammal bycatch is thought to be in excess
of 300,000 individuals. For some species, like the Vaquita
(Phocoena sinus) which is only found in the Gulf
of California, extinction looms; for others, like the Irrawaddy
Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), the extent of
bycatch has yet to be ascertained and no remedial
actions are being taken.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has been instrumental
in negotiating International Plans of Action aiming to reduce
bycatch levels of Sharks and Sea Birds. Innovative fishing
techniques are subject of trials in the Southern Hemisphere
to reduce Albatross and Petrel losses. In several fisheries
in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific, it is now required
to fit Turtle excluder devices. A start is being made to
addressing bycatch with stricter regulations being enforced
in many regions, but still, more needs to be done. The CMS
Resolution 9.18 adopted in 2008 calls on Parties to compile
information to assess the impact of bycatch on migratory
species and take action regarding fishing activities within
Links to CMS and FAO documents:
9.18 on Bycatch
FAO 2009. FAO Technical Guidelines For Responsible Fisheries
No 1, Supplement 2. Best practices to reduce incidental
catch of seabirds in capture fisheries. http://www.fao.org/docrep/012/i1145e/i1145e00.pdf
FAO Fisheries Department. Guidelines to reduce sea turtle
mortality in fishing operations. Rome, FAO. 2009. 128p. http://www.fao.org/docrep/012/i0725e/i0725e00.htm
CMS Agreements and MoUs addressing Bycatch:
Baker, CMS Appointed Scientific Councillor on Bycatch
(Deutsche Welle Interview)
Other Related Links: