Group of adult Razorbill and Guillemot foraging underwater in shimmering blue sea, around the coast of the Shiant Isles in Scotland.

Bycatch

Bycatch is the highest impact marine threat that seabirds face across the globe. The RSPB and BirdLife International have been at the forefront of the fight to tackle this issue for over a decade.

The bycatch of albatrosses

Albatrosses flying around a small fishing vessel

Bycatch is pushing many species of albatross, the most threatened group of seabirds worldwide, towards extinction. Longline fishing became popular following increased restrictions around drift netting in the 1980s. These longlines can be 80 miles long, each with thousands of baited hooks. Globally, more than one billion hooks are set each year by longline fleets. The risk for seabirds is that they grab the bait, get hooked, are dragged underwater and drown.

Think wider

Black-browed albatross and cape petrel feeding on offal discards from trawler, showing effective use of bird scaring lines with none feeding by the cables, in South Africa.

BirdLife International estimates at least 300,000 seabirds drown on longline hooks every year, including tens of thousands of albatrosses.

 

Seabirds often travel vast distances across the ocean, crossing the borders of many nations. They encounter fisheries in different territories, meaning national measures alone won’t save albatrosses. We work with BirdLife International to change fishing practices globally to prevent bycatch.

Bycatch in UK waters

Black guillemot Cepphus grylle, adult, raindrops on plumage on rock, North Hill RSPB reserve, Papa Westray, Orkney

Bycatch in UK waters

Individuals from at least 10 species of seabirds have died as bycatch via UK vessels. The endangered Northern fulmar and common guillemot are caught most frequently, with thousands estimated being killed by UK vessels alone each year. Diving birds like guillemots don’t see nets as they hunt underwater, become entangled and drown, whilst fulmars get trapped when they try to take food from baited hooks. Urgent action is needed.

What we’re doing

Fisher throwing bird scaring line from boat in to a deep blue sea, Namibia

We are calling on UK governments to ramp up monitoring and roll out measures to stop seabirds drowning on the end of hooks and in nets.

 

From our grassroots engagement we know how important it is to collaborate with industry, so we also work directly with fishermen to understand the problem and find practical solutions. We have proven you can stop accidental seabird deaths in fishing gear elsewhere. It is a solvable problem which needs to be addressed domestically.