Sandeel Fishing Banned in Certain Waters


The recent sandeel fishing ban creates a lifeline for UK birds

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Image by Kyn Wai

By Shannon Reed

Industrial sandeel fishing will be banned from April in the UK’s North Sea and all Scottish Waters following 25 years of campaigning by the RSPB.

The UK is home to almost 8 million globally important seabirds, but last year’s seabird census found more than half of our breeding seabird species have declined over the past 20 years. Puffins and Kittiwakes are just two species that depend on our depleted sandeel populations for food, and are both now threatened with global extinction. After its feature in 2023’s Wild Isles series narrated by David Attenborough, the decline of sandeels due to climate change and overfishing on beloved birds such as Puffins received national attention.

Such coverage only furthered the public’s support for a total industrial fishing ban, with the UK Government receiving more than 33,000 responses to their consultation last year. The consultation found overwhelming support for the closure of sandeel fisheries, with 95.5% of respondents in agreement. Whilst there has been a ban in place since 2021 for boats from the UK, the new ban will also encompass fishing vessels from other nations such as the EU.

So, exactly how important is the closure of sandeel fisheries for our seabirds?

This week, the RSPB has called the move the “single greatest act to safeguard seabirds”, with the RSPB’s Chief Executive Beccy Speight referring to the “resilience (of seabirds) being pushed to the limit” as they are placed “at the forefront of the nature and climate emergency.” Sandeels may only be a very small fish, but they have a large impact on a range of UK wildlife from Guillemots and Shags to wild Salmon, forming an essential part of the food-chain. But each year, industrial trawling by EU countries removes thousands of tonnes of the already climate-threatened fish from our waters and places further pressure on our wildlife. For example, surface-foraging seabirds such as Kittiwakes are only able to dive very shallow depths to catch their prey and rely on sandeels to sustain their young. As such, the severe overfishing of sandeels has crippled many of the UK’s breeding seabird colonies which have also been affected by the current outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.

The closure of industrial sandeel fisheries comes at a critical time for UK wildlife, following last year’s State of Nature report that found the UK to be one of the world’s most nature depleted countries. The ban is subject to Parliamentary approval, but will likely come into effect ahead of the 2024 fishery season in Scottish waters.