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RSPB urges re-think on drift net ban

Last modified: 05 August 2014

Coast on a stormy day with heavy rain falling on coastal headland

Image: Nick Upton

The RSPB has urged the European Commission not to impose an EU wide ban on small-scale drift net fishing which could impact local fishermen who fish in a responsible and sustainable way.

In May of this year, the Commission proposed a ‘blanket ban’ to address the impact of this catch method on vulnerable and protected species like turtles, sharks and seabirds, particularly in the Mediterranean.

The Commission’s proposal refers to driftnets of less than 2.5km in length which are still widely used in EU waters, including France, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria and the UK, by coastal fishermen.

In Northern Ireland, skiff fishing for herring in the Mourne area is a long-standing tradition which takes place from September to December. This type of small scale operation can be carried out without significant environmental impact and the RSPB understands that some local skiffs are undertaking certification from the Marine Stewardship Council which proves their operation is sustainable and well managed.

Responsible fishing practices are vital to ensure the waters off the island of Ireland can continue to support a rich variety of marine birds and wildlife. Almost 20 different species of breeding seabirds make their homes along Northern Ireland's coast, including terns, puffins and kittiwakes, as well as mammals like seals, porpoises and whales.

As a conservation organisation, the RSPB strongly supports curbs on damaging fishing practices, legal or illegal, and actively promotes measures to eliminate bycatch of seabirds and other marine wildlife. It says there is a strong case for stricter enforcement to halt illegal driftnet fishing in EU waters but it opposes a blanket, EU-wide ban on small-scale drift-net fishing.

Ana Almeida, Marine Conservation Officer at RSPB NI, said: “Here in Northern Ireland the ban will penalise responsible small-scale fisherman who use driftnets to fish in a sustainable way. This ban could even mean a gear switching into other more damaging fishing methods.

“Instead of a blanket ban, the European Commission should think about a regional approach with the introduction of effective enforcement of a ban where it is needed. Simultaneously, when scientifically proved to have negligible environmental impact, small scale drift-net fisheries should be exempted from the ban.”

Consultation on the proposed ban with the 28 member states is ongoing and a decision is expected to be announced imminently.

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