The German environmental NGOs Society for Dolphin Conservation (GRD) and NABU Schleswig-Holstein warn of massive losses of harbor porpoises and sea birds in gillnets set along the coasts of Schleswig-Holstein.
The reason: The agreement made by the Green Party environment minister for Schleswig-Holstein, Robert Habeck, with the Schleswig-Holstein fisheries association and the fishermen's protection society last year encouraging fishermen to reduce set gillnets on a voluntary basis completely disregards conservation requirements.
Conservation organisations have repeatedly criticized Environment Minister Robert Habeck for signing this agreement, calling it an "eco-political declaration of bankruptcy of a Green Party minister of environment."
The observations made during a water bird census performed along the Baltic Sea coasts between Neuland and Hohwacht in mid March confirm the conservationists’ worries. From their watch point at Hohwachter Steilufer watchers counted approximately 7,000 eider ducks; 11,700 common scoter ducks; 19 red-throated divers; und 4 groups of harbor porpoises. These rare cetaceans were observed hunting for fish in the shallow waters about 100 m to 1,500 m off the coast.
Yet, in this very region, which sees numerous water birds from October through early April, and harbor porpoises during the present time, fishermen had set seven gillnets, including three in the area stretching from Lippe to Hohwacht, where the small cetaceans were observed hunting for prey.
Right now, there should be no set gillnets at all
This one water bird census has already shown that the general framework fixed in the voluntary agreement is insufficient to reduce harbor porpoise and water bird by-catch in the fisheries unless periods with high numbers of water birds and greater occurrence of harbor porpoises are included in a comprehensive ban on gillnet setting.
"Right now, there should be no set gillnets at all along the coasts from Neuland to Hohwacht and Weissenhaus," says Ingo Ludwichowski, executive director of NABU Schleswig-Holstein.
A conservative minister could not have done worse
The agreement for the protection of sea birds made between the Environment Ministry of Schleswig-Holstein and the fishermen associations is valid only until 1 March, i.e., it ends in the middle of the season when the numbers of resting migratory water birds reach their peaks.
With respect to harbor porpoises, on the other hand, the agreement is seemingly arbitrarily limited to the months of July and August.
"It is absolutely scandalous that a Green Party environment minister takes such a fatal decision for marine animals. The voluntary agreement to reduce animal losses in set gillnets is an eco-political disaster and it will inevitably lead to massive losses of seabirds and harbor porpoises. A conservative minister could not have done worse," says GRD biologist Ulrich Karlowski.
München, Kiel, 18 March 2014