Monitoring fishing activities critical to curb deaths of millions of marine species

Posted on 25 November 2020

Revision of the EU fisheries control system must mandate cameras on fishing vessels to ensure sustainable fisheries and prevent bycatch in European seas
At least 720,000 seabirds, 300,000 cetaceans, 345,000 seals and sea lions, over 250,000 turtles and tens of millions of sharks perish around the world each year as ‘bycatch’ - the unintentional capture of marine wildlife by commercial fisheries - a new report by WWF and Sky Ocean Rescue shows. Many of these species are endangered or on the brink of extinction.

In Europe, one of the most prolific species being lost due to entanglement in fishing gear is the Baltic Proper harbour porpoise, whose population has plummeted to around 500 and is now listed as critically endangered under both IUCN and HELCOM.

In the Bay of Biscay, an increasing number of common dolphins wash ashore each winter. In just four months, between December 2018 and March 2019, an alarming 1,200 dolphins died as a result of suspected entanglement in fishing gear.

WWF is calling for the use of Remote Electronic Monitoring with cameras (REM) to be mandated within the EU fishing fleet to improve monitoring of what is being caught and accountability across fisheries. The European Parliament Fisheries Committee is due to vote on the matter in January 2021 as part of the revision of the EU fisheries control system, which aims to modernise and simplify the rules for monitoring fisheries activities and ensure compliance with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). 
REM serves to not only improve documentation of instances of bycatch, but to provide better fisheries data to improve EU fisheries’ management and stock assessments. Crucially, REM will also allow for better control with the compliance of the rules of the CFP.

Katrin Vilhelm Poulsen, Senior Seafood Policy Officer at the WWF European Policy Office said, “The revision of the EU fisheries control system is a tremendous opportunity for decision makers and industry players to embrace the installation of REM with cameras on fishing vessels — a proven, cost-effective and low-risk tool that supports sustainable fisheries and gives life in European seas a much-needed leg-up in its recovery. Effective monitoring of fisheries are essential to securing the long-term sustainability of European fisheries and addressing the urgent problem of wildlife bycatch across our ocean.”

WWF’s recent Living Planet Report 2020 showed that nature is in freefall with a 68% decline in species population sizes since 1970, and unsustainable fishing is impacting heavily on marine biodiversity. Fishing is the biggest threat to marine wildlife, due to the use of non-selective fishing gear which capture far more than the targeted species.

Conservation of our most vulnerable cetacean, shark and turtle populations is only possible if effective ways to prevent and reduce bycatch are developed. Currently, there is no accurate measurement of the true nature of the problem, as there is very little independent monitoring of most fishing activities at sea.

With over 100 trials and 12 fully implemented programmes worldwide, REM has already demonstrated its unrivalled capacity to play a critical role in delivering a fisheries management system that successfully promotes environmental sustainability, while furthering the economic viability of the fishing industry. 

In February 2020, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, acknowledged the problem of bycatch in EU waters and stated his full commitment to resolving the problem. 

Larissa Milo-Dale
WWF European Policy Office
Senior Communications Officer, Marine 
+32 483 26 20 86
Drowned green turtle (Chelonia myda) entangled in a gillnet
© Philipp Kanstinger / WWF