Policy Briefing: Sandeel fisheries in UK waters

Alex Kinninmonth

Friday 25 June 2021

The RSPB is calling on governments to set tougher control on fishing for sandeels, these small fish are critical to healthy marine food webs in the UK, including for some of our most threatened seabirds.

A report from the RSPB demonstrates the link between seabird decline and reduced sandeel availability, whilst identifying major flaws in the way the North Sea sandeel fishery is managed. Every year industrial fishing fleets remove hundreds of thousands of tonnes of these small shoaling fishes from the North Sea making it harder for seabirds to find enough to feed their chicks.

The RSPB is calling on governments to throw a lifeline for some of the country’s most-loved birds by setting tougher controls on fishing for sandeel.

Our policy recommendations

We propose stronger regulation of the industrial sandeel fishery which will require:

  • To close the whole of the UK EEZ (our preferred approach) or as a minimum to close both the Dogger Bank and the Scottish part of the EEZ.
  • Improving the scientific advice on sandeel catches for the whole North Sea in order to Incorporate the concept of ‘set-aside’ of sandeel biomass for seabirds and other wildlife in the process of advising on annual catch limits for the North Sea sandeel fishery.
  • Scientific advice on sandeel catches for the whole North Sea to inform the adjustment of catch limits downward to take account of zones where fishing for sandeel is not permitted, thus preventing the concentration of fishing effort into an area of sea far smaller than for which advice was given.

Our UK seabirds are in trouble and face a cocktail of threats to their survival. Several species have suffered severe declines with those that depend on sandeels as food faring the worst. There is compelling evidence that the declining availability of sandeel is negatively affecting the breeding success of certain seabird species. These include the kittiwakes, whose UK population has halved since the 1960s, and puffins both of which have been declared as at risk of global extinction by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Whereas climate change is held primarily responsible for the decline of sandeel availability, the commercial fishing of this species is gravely exacerbating the problem.

 

A unique opportunity for our seabirds

The current management of the sandeel fishery is not providing the necessary framework for nature to recover. A series of have been identified, including how it allows fishing operations within the foraging range of several endangered UK birds. This is aggravated by not taking into consideration the wildlife depending on these fishes when setting maximum annual catch.

Such flaws also impact local fishermen, none of which are involved in the North Sea sandeel fishery. Indeed, commercial fish species feeding on sandeels such as cod could benefit from boosting their numbers.

New post-Brexit fisheries powers mean the UK can fight for its seabirds. It now needs to close UK waters to commercial sandeel fishing or, at the very least, drop catch limits so more fish are available for our seabirds.

The current management of the sandeel fishery is not providing the necessary framework for nature to recover. A series of have been identified, including how it allows fishing operations within the foraging range of several endangered UK birds. This is aggravated by not taking into consideration the wildlife depending on these fishes when setting maximum annual catch.

Such flaws also impact local fishermen, none of which are involved in the North Sea sandeel fishery. Indeed, commercial fish species feeding on sandeels such as cod could benefit from boosting their numbers.

New post-Brexit fisheries powers mean the UK can fight for its seabirds. It now needs to close UK waters to commercial sandeel fishing or, at the very least, drop catch limits so more fish are available for our seabirds.

Full report

Last Updated: Friday 25 June 2021

Contact

Coast on a stormy day

Kirsten Carter

Principal Policy Officer

Kirsten.carter@rspb.org.uk
07725604874
Tagged with: Country: England Country: Scotland Country: UK Topic: Policy Topic: Fisheries