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Bycatch Project

Sea turtles are vulnerable species often incidentally
caught by fishing gears

Understanding Mediterranean multi-taxa ‘bycatch’ of vulnerable species and testing mitigation- a collaborative approach

Total Duration:

34 months, September 2017 – June 2020

Geographical scope and countries involved:

Mediterranean Basin : Alboran Sea, Sicily Channel, Central Aegean & Levantine Basin

Involved countries: Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey


The incidental catch of vulnerable species by fishing gears (also known generically as ’bycatch’- although that term embraces also other non-targeted but not vulnerable fished species) is a key conservation issue in the Mediterranean for several vertebrates, including sea turtles, birds, marine mammals and elasmobranchs for which SPA/RAC is implementing regional Action Plans (AP):

Typically, data on incidental catches of those species has been collected in a haphazard manner, using different protocols, sometimes at very local scales, and in ways that make comparison between studies difficult.

As a result, little is known of the scale and scope of the problem, despite bycatch being an important pressure on the populations of critically endangered species. Indeed, the challenge is listed within the SAP BIO Priority activity 21: “Assessment, control and elaboration of strategies to prevent impact of fisheries on biodiversity”.

Vulnerable sharks and rays are often incidentally caught
by fishing gears

Quantifying the bycatch rate of vulnerable species is particularly complicated given that fisheries do not systematically report these captures, often despite national and international obligations, and observer programmes, when they are implemented, do not cover the entirety of a fleet and are often made within a restricted area and over a defined and non-continuous period.

Developing and implementing solutions to prevent bycatch remains extremely challenging within the absence of a detailed understanding of the spatial/temporal interaction between fisheries and vulnerable species. Solutions to significantly reduce bycatch for some vulnerable species as sea turtles and birds have been developed with some successful tests and implementation in other parts of the world. However, very few investigations have been made to check if those technical solutions can reduce bycatch for multiple taxa at one time. Additionally, some mitigation techniques can be efficient for one taxa but inefficient or harmful for others.

Furthermore, in the Mediterranean there has been limited work on bycatch reduction solutions, and only in a few locations, made mainly on sea turtles (gillnets, trawls) and seabirds (longlines). In order to bring about a step change in the management of fisheries to reduce bycatch of vulnerable species, it will be necessary to understand the fishing operations and fishing gears in detail and test mitigation measures in collaboration with the fishing industry.


The project “Understanding Mediterranean multi-taxa 'bycatch' of vulnerable species and testing mitigation- a collaborative approach “(Bycatch project) aims to support UNEP/MAP Barcelona Convention, and specifically the southern and eastern Mediterranean Contracting Parties (Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey), to identify and test measures to reduce impact of fisheries on marine mammals, birds, turtles and elasmobranches.

The project is implemented by Birdlife International (as coordinator), SPA/RAC, GFCM, ACCOBAMS, MEDASSET and IUCN-Med and financially supported by the MAVA Foundation.

This project will focus on three separate fishing gears: demersal trawl, gillnets and longlines and it’s aimed at developing and implementing standardized data collection of bycatch across the Mediterranean, in both EU and non-EU countries, and to develop and test mitigation measures regarding their effectiveness in reducing single and multi-taxa bycatch and which can be eventually adopted in the whole region.

Many vulnerable sea birds are incidentally caught by
fishing gears, especially longlines

SPA/RAC is involved in the project transversal activities targeting all the beneficiary countries and will manage the activities in Tunisia. These will be implemented in collaboration with relevant institutions/research institutes of the country in order to:

  • Improve knowledge on species and habitats affected by unsustainable fishing practices
  • Raise awareness of fishers and other target groups
  • Build capacities of relevant actors (NGOs, fisher organizations, administrations) for implementing sustainable fishing practices
  • Implement demonstration projects on sustainable fishing practices
  • Contribute to the development of a Mediterranean strategy and implement a communication campaign

To address the challenges related to the bycatch of vulnerable species and its mitigation, the project outlines five key activities:

  1. Improve knowledge on species and habitats affected by unsustainable fishing practices
    • Elaborate a regional review of incidental catches of vulnerable species (cetaceans, marine turtles, birds and elasmobranches) in the Mediterranean and in all gears
    • Organize kick-off meetings with the involved countries and the different stakeholders to identify the main fishing grounds for each fleet segment (the most important ports, vessels, fishing associations, etc.)
    • Set up an observer programme (for each country) staffed by national institutes, agencies and NGO (multi-taxa port-based and on-board surveys on bycatch made by an observer team)
  2. Raise awareness of fishers and other target groups
    • Develop and implement standardized (and EU/GFCM compatible) protocols for collecting data on incidental catches of vulnerable species that are applicable to all Mediterranean countries
    • Develop and maintain a pan-Mediterranean multi-taxa database for bycatch compatible with both EU and GFCM data collection framework
    • Publish reports on analysis of the scientific data collected and outlining the main findings of the project
  3. Build capacities of relevant actors (NGOs, fisher organizations, administrations) for implementing sustainable fishing practices in the involved countries, through:
    • Trainings for bycatch observer teams
    • Training for fishermen on self-reporting methods on bycatch
    • Production and distribution of awareness material (ID guides, best practice guideline etc.) for preventing incidental catches and live release
    • Workshops and meetings to build capacities of local NGOs in advocacy with national governments on bycatch and fisheries management fields
  4. Implement demonstration projects on sustainable fishing practices
    • Develop and test mitigation measures on participating vessels in Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey
    • Organize a closure workshop including scientific meeting on mitigation measures, best practices, lessons learnt and review of the draft 2020-2030 strategy document
  5. Overarch Mediterranean strategy and communication campaign
    • Define and implement a communication strategy/plan:
      1. Set up a project website
      2. Produce and disseminate press releases and web stories
      3. Promote bycatch issue and solutions, including project outputs dissemination on social media
      4. Produce printed material such as brochures, maps, leaflets and postcards.
      5. National photo exhibitions in 5 countries
      6. Participate in different national fairs/ expositions
    • Advocate to Mediterranean decision makers (including at national level in Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey) on bycatch fisheries management, data collection, technical mitigation, controls & enforcement, and new EU fisheries policy beyond 2020
    • Develop a Mediterranean strategy/ action plan for the decade 2020-2030 to reduce incidental captures of vulnerable species
Brochure on the Bycatch project (SPA/RAC activities):

SPA/RAC is involved on the implementation of the “Bycatch project” with a partnership including BirdLife International (as coordinator), GFCM, ACCOBAMS, MEDASSET and IUCN-Med.


MAVA - Fondation pour la nature


For more information on the Bycatch Project, please contact

Project officer

SAPBIO Coordinator

Species Programme Officer


Photo Credits: © INSTM