Unique byelaw to save seabirds

After years of hard work by the RSPB, a solution to a problem affecting Cornwall’s seabirds is at last within their grasp.

St Ives Bay is a key wintering site for auks, such as guillemots, and scarcer birds like great northern divers, as well as seals and dolphins. Over the last 10 years, a small number of fishing boats has been setting gill nets in the bay, which have killed an estimated 10,000 seabirds. Birds get entangled in the nets when diving for fish, and drown. Over 100 dead birds have been seen in a single net. This has been contentious locally with debates on the environment versus local jobs.

Now, under a draft bye-law from the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee, the gill net fishery will be closed temporarily if significant numbers of seabirds are trapped. The criteria for significant are being worked out. A vital element is that two years of monitoring has been approved, with funding from the RSPB, English Nature, the Environment Agency and PESCA (an EU fisheries fund to support innovative ways to help diversify the fishing industry in areas that depend strongly on fishing, like Cornwall).

This is the first draft environmental bye-law for an inshore fishery and the first exercising of the 1995 Environment Act by a Sea Fisheries Committee.

The RSPB congratulates the Cornwall SFC for this bold move. The bye-law still needs final approval by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but they hope it will be in place for this winter.

Published in Birds Winter 1999.