Drastic by-catch restrictions must fundamentally change industrial fisheries

High time for a fisheries turnaround

High time for a fisheries turnaround

It is a question of survival for all of us: only if the biodiversity in the ocean is preserved can the ocean ecosystem function. And only then can the oceans make their decisive contribution to protecting the climate. But industrial fishing has been exploiting the world's oceans for decades as if there were no tomorrow. If nothing is done, a third of the shark and ray species, marine mammals and coral reefs will have disappeared within the next few years.

Floating fish factories are emptying the oceans. Vast numbers of seabirds, sharks, turtles, whales or dolphins die senselessly as by-catch. Even strictly protected animals continue to be killed and thrown back into the sea by the millions. “Only a fundamental turnaround in fishing can still save what can be saved,” says the head of Sharkproject International Cooperation, Dr Iris Ziegler. “It would also have to be clear to fishing nations: either the fishing industry rethinks, or it will soon have nothing left to fish.”

Fishing quotas and protection regulations have been in place for a long time. But so far they have had little effect. There is a lack of effective controls and a transparent system that discloses how much is actually fished and how many animals end up as by-catch. “There must be an observer on board at least on every fifth fishing trip,” says Ziegler. So far, this is only the case on every 20th fishing trip. “In addition, electronic monitoring systems must keep complete records of where, what and how much of which species is caught or released in the end,” Ziegler demands. “If no one knows what really happens on the catching ships, we will never get a grip on the overexploitation of our seas. This concerns us all. Because the survival of the oceans also ensures the survival of people.”

It is a global task that must be tackled jointly by the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Food, and Agriculture Organization, but also by all national and regional fisheries authorities. The EU now wants to present its biodiversity strategy as part of the Green Deal. This is to include an action plan for the protection of fisheries resources and marine ecosystems by the end of 2021. Sharkproject has presented proposals for a fundamental turnaround in fisheries: Strict catch limits, which are also monitored for compliance, are crucial. The by-catch of endangered species must be significantly reduced or, in the case of species directly threatened with extinction, completely eliminated. Fishing methods that destroy marine habitats, such as bottom trawls or deep-sea fishing below 400 metres, must be generally banned. Longline fishing must be drastically restricted. And at least 30 per cent of the entire marine area must be placed under complete protection, so that any kind of fishing or other interference with marine life is prohibited there. “We know what needs to be done. We can still save many species from extinction and preserve the marine ecosystem. But now we need to act quickly and fundamentally. We can all no longer afford industrial mass fishing like in the past 50 years,” says Ziegler.



Sharkproject advocates for a fundamental fisheries' turnaround.

  • The goal is a sustainable fishery that enables the protection of the entire ecosystem and a lasting recovery of fish stocks. Fishing quotas must be set in a way that ensures the rapid recovery of overfished fish stocks.
  • Particularly harmful fishing methods such as bottom trawling and deep-sea fishing must be completely banned.
    Longline fishing must be drastically restricted.
  • Purse seine fishing with “fish collectors” must be significantly reduced and better monitored. Lost “fish collectors” must be recovered. The owners of the “fish collectors” must be obliged to pay for the salvage costs. Up to now, discarded fish aggregators have been floating in the sea as rubbish. Endangered species can get caught in them. When they run aground on coral reefs, discarded fish collectors cause great damage.
  • It is imperative to protect whale sharks and whales from being encircled by purse seine nets.
  • Fishing methods must be improved and used in such a way that only those fish “end up in the net” that can actually be caught sustainably.
  • Unwanted by-catch must be fully documented and avoided wherever possible. The long-term goal should be a by-catch rate of zero. Already now, the by-catch rate of sharks can be reduced by not using squid as bait or by using special types of hooks that allow for a gentle live release of sharks.
  • Coherent and strictly protected marine protected areas must be expanded to cover 30 per cent of the oceans by 2030, almost one third of the total ocean area.
  • Drastically improve monitoring and surveillance: So far, there is only an observer on board — if at all — on every 20th ship. In future, one observer must be on board every 5th ship. In addition, electronic monitoring systems must be added.

Worldwide, EU


  • Until fisheries have been converted to ecosystem-based fisheries management and, above all, the by-catch of threatened species has been drastically reduced.

Particularly harmful fishing methods

  • Longline fishing: Up to 200 km long lines with thousands of hooks are used to fish mainly for tuna and swordfish. But hundreds of thousands of sharks, many turtles and countless seabirds die senselessly as unwanted or, in the case of sharks, often welcome or even targeted by-catch.
  • Bottom trawls destroy everything that moves on the seabed.
  • Purse seine fishing: Drifting “fish collectors”, also known as “decoy buoys” or “drifting FADs”, suggest protection to fish in the open sea. Therefore, mainly juvenile fish gather there. The fish collectors can be targeted directly by fishing vessels via satellite buoys, and then huge purse seine nets are pulled around the fish collector. Everything that was under the fish collector is brought on board. Among them are mainly silky sharks and whitetip sharks that are not yet sexually mature, but also other shark species, rays, manta rays, sea turtles and marine mammals, many of which are already endangered. Sharkproject is calling for a drastic reduction in the number of such trapping systems. Sharkproject is working to ensure that these trapping systems are biodegradable in the future and that there is no lifetime risk of other animals becoming entangled in them. By-catch of juvenile sharks and other species must be avoided, by avoiding the so-called hotspots for these sharks and by technical measures to check the catch composition before encircling with purse seine nets. Technical measures must also be introduced to speed up the release and improve the chances of survival for this shark by-catch.
  • Deep-sea fishing: This involves fishing at depths below 400 metres down to 1000 metres or even more using either bottom trawls or longlines. The species living there are usually particularly long-lived and especially sensitive to overfishing, many of them are poorly studied and recovery of overfished species or habitat destroyed by fishing methods can take many hundreds or even thousands of years.

Position Statement on Required Improvements in the Management of DFADs at the 6th Special Session of the IOTC

Sharkproject supports the IOTC-2023-SS6-PropD[E] proposal “on management of drifting fish aggregating devices (DFADs) in the IOTC area of competence” submitted by Kenya and other countries for the 6th Special Session of the Commission focusing on measures for tropical purse seine tuna fisheries setting on drifting FADs, by now the most widely used fishing practice accounting for 40% of global tuna catch.

In addition, we hope to see bycatch avoidance and mortality reduction targets being adopted which are essential objectives to stop the further decline of populations of threatened sharks and rays in the Indian Ocean and to provide a realistic chance for the rebuilding of possibly overfished stocks of silky sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks and other ETP bycatch species.

Project history

April 2020

SHARKPROJECT becomes a member of the NGO Tuna Forum

March until September 2020

SHARKPROJECT receives accreditation as an observer at IOTC and ICCAT

September 2020

SHARKPROJECT registers in the EU Transparency Register

June 2021

Together with Pro Wildlife e.V., Sharkproject presents a 7-point plan for healthy seas to the Vice-President of the EU Commission Frans Timmermans.

September 2021

SHARKPROJECT publishes a position paper at the IUCN World Congress on improving industrial fishing and the fishing methods used, with minimum requirements for improving longline fishing and purse seine fishing with "fish collectors".

September 2021

EU Commission sets up working group to coordinate a response to the 7-point plan

November 2021

EU announces its action plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems

December 2021

Sharkproject joins the Transform Bottom Trawling coalition.

December 2021

Sharkproject advocates for vulnerable ecosystems and sharks in the deep sea as part of the Deep Sea Coalition. In particular, the implementation of the fishing ban down to 800 m depth in sensitive deep sea habitats in EU waters and a global moratorium against deep sea mining are key issues in this regard.

December 2021

Sharkproject participates in the public consultation on the EU Biodiversity Action Plan 2030.

November 2022

SHARKPROJECT at the 76th meeting of the CITES Standing Commission in Panama