Charting the rising tide of progress on bycatch mitigation in UK fisheries

Last year was a busy year for the Clean Catch UK (CCUK) team and an important one for policy efforts to reduce bycatch in UK fisheries. Our highlight came in the form of our Hauling Up Solutions 2 workshop, which proved to be an inspiring knowledge exchange event that will help steer the course of our work to come. Meanwhile, 2022 also saw the release of key policies to guide the direction of fisheries management in the UK – with action on wildlife bycatch forming an essential component. How does all this translate to change on the water? Read on to find out!


The work of CCUK

Hauling Up Solutions 2

Over three unexpectedly warm and sunny days in March 2022, CCUK convened fishermen, policymakers, scientists, NGOs, and other bycatch-changemakers at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. Building on the Hauling Up Solutions 1 workshop held in 2019, this event focused on two overarching questions:

To explore these, presenters from across the UK and beyond shared their insights into the research and field trials undertaken in a variety of fisheries, including a switch from gillnets to longlines in Argentina to protect franciscana dolphins, efforts by fishers in Filey Bay in Yorkshire to reduce seabird bycatch, and the development of a “mini seine” for demersal fishing. We were delighted to have a lot of fishermen in attendance at the workshop, whose voices were central to shaping the direction of discussions throughout the event.

Our aim was to synthesise learnings from the event to produce a set of recommendations for industry, policymakers, and other stakeholders, which were subsequently published in a report in September 2022. The recommendations focused on improved data collection, introducing industry codes of conduct, fostering collaboration and buy-in, exchanging knowledge, and trialling both modified and alternative gears.


Local Focus Groups

 Our Cetacean Local Focus Group (LFG) met a few weeks before Hauling Up Solutions 2, with discussion focusing on the ongoing trials being run in collaboration with Mevagissey fishermen to determine whether acoustic deterrent devices (“pingers”) could help reduce porpoise and dolphin bycatch – you can read the meeting report here.

Meanwhile, our Spurdog LFG provided input into publication of the Spurdog Bycatch Management Programme Three Year Review – a comprehensive report on achievements so far in reducing spurdog bycatch, the improvements that the programme could implement based on feedback from fishing industry members, and potential next steps to help drive sustainable management of spurdog.


Updates to the Bycatch Mitigation Hub

 The CCUK Bycatch Mitigation Hub is a treasure trove of information on methods to reduce wildlife bycatch. You might be a gillnet fisherman looking to brush up on how to keep seabirds away from your gear, or a scientist reviewing the current landscape of bycatch reduction efforts – whoever you are, the Hub makes it simple, easy and quick to explore ways to prevent bycatch of your chosen species group(s) by your chosen fishing gear(s). Crucially, we only include methods for which peer-reviewed scientific literature exists – in other words, they’ve been tried and tested in a rigorous way.

To ensure that the Hub reflects the latest developments in the world of bycatch reduction, we conduct periodic reviews of new scientific literature. Our latest update was completed in December, with new evidence added to a variety of methods on the Hub including pingers, bird scarers, and LED lights. We also added a few new methods, including net binding. As always, we found it heartening and inspiring to see how much work is being undertaken by scientists, fishers and others around the world to find ways for fisheries and marine wildlife to coexist.

Are you aware of any new research into the effectiveness of methods for bycatch reduction? Send them our way!


The policy seascape

Bycatch Mitigation Initiative

The Marine Wildlife Bycatch Mitigation Initiative (BMI) sets out how the UK ‘will achieve its ambitions to minimise and, where possible, eliminate the bycatch of sensitive marine species’. Those species include seals, whales, dolphins, porpoises, seabirds, sharks, skates, and rays. The BMI is a key delivery component of the Joint Fisheries Statement (more on that below!), and explicitly references the work of CCUK including its pinger trial in Cornwall, rolling out a bycatch self-reporting mobile app, and creating an online repository of information on bycatch mitigation measures (AKA the Bycatch Mitigation Hub).  The BMI’s key objectives centre around improving our understanding of where and what bycatch risks exist, and how best to address these.

The BMI has been written with flexibility in mind, recognising that a “one method fits all” approach won’t work across the UK’s diversity of fisheries and ecosystems. It will serve as an important guide to national fisheries authorities as they consult on and develop future management plans.


Joint Fisheries Statement

 The final version of the Joint Fisheries Statement (JFS) was published in November, following a consultation earlier in the year. It lays out how the UK government and the Devolved Administrations will meet the objectives of the Fisheries Act 2020, which aims to ensure that the UK’s seas are healthy, biodiverse, and productive. Though not explicitly focused on bycatch, the JFS sets out a number of ‘policy approaches’ for achieving the Act’s objectives, one of which is ‘reducing bycatch and minimising catches of sensitive species’.

This policy approach for bycatch commits national fisheries authorities in the UK to develop management measures in collaboration with industry to reduce bycatch of both non-target fish species and sensitive wildlife species – again providing flexibility for actions that are tailored to their specific contexts and integrate the expertise and needs of local fishers. The JFS also explicitly references and reinforces the significance of the Bycatch Mitigation Initiative – and by extension, the work of CCUK.


Looking to the future

We’ll continue to facilitate collaboration and help drive action on bycatch in UK fisheries, as part of the government’s wider efforts to ensure the flourishing of our seas. We’ll also continue to use social media to share news of and celebrate the broader panorama of efforts to reduce bycatch, in the UK and globally – so if you have something to shout about, let us know! 

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