Untangling the net: tackling bird bycatch in Baltic gillnet fisheries

Bycatch of seabirds in gillnet fisheries is a global conservation issue and the Baltic Sea is a hotspot, with an estimated 76,000 birds caught annually in the sea basin- including threatened species such as Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck. There is currently no proven, effective solutions to prevent seabirds from being caught in gillnets. This project aims to understand the bycatch problem in Lithuania further, develop and test experimental methods to reduce the bycatch of birds in nets, and raise awareness to decision makers on the need to manage this problem. 

Situation and background 

Gillnet bycatch is estimated to kill 400,000 seabirds globally each year, of which 76,000 are thought to be killed in Baltic gillnet fisheries annually. Research indicates that it is a substantial issue in Lithuanian coastal waters and the Curonian Lagoon, where internationally important numbers of wintering seaducks, loons and grebes overlap with gillnet fishing operations. This toll includes the capture of internationally threatened species, including Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck.

According to a recent review, diving seabirds are unable to perceive the fine nylon mesh of gillnets, which is essentially invisible under water. Alerting birds to the presence of nets, and further ‘scaring’ them from coming too close, is likely to be the key means of preventing entanglements, and ultimately, drowning.

Although this problem is not new, there has been very little research to develop technological solutions, and little concrete work to manage the problem effectively. Currently, the only way to stop gillnet bycatch is by imposing fisheries closures.

This project aims to develop a technical mitigation measure that reduces seabird bycatch in gillnets while also aiming to minimise economic impacts on fishers, and will work to improve fisheries management in Lithuanian waters. To this end, we have assembled a team of experts to tackle the problem, including bycatch mitigation gear technicians, the fishing industry, bird vision experts, conservationists and policy experts. We will maximise this expertise – and build on an existing collaboration with Lithuanian gillnet fishers – by testing prototype mitigation measures on active vessels. This grouping of experts alongside the active collaboration with fishers and decision makers provides hope of managing this problem by developing mitigation that is effective, practical, acceptable and therefore implementable at a broader scale.

Project activities and effects 

Our objectives include:

  • Develop a technical mitigation measure and test on Lithuanian Baltic Sea gillnet vessels.
  • Assess the scale of the bycatch problem across the Curonian Lagoon for the first time.
  • Strengthen bycatch measures in Lithuanian (and wider Baltic) fisheries management

These objectives will be achieved through the following key activities:

  • Collaboration with sensory ecologists and fisheries technicians to develop an experimental mitigation measure to be attached to gillnets. The first technical meeting of this group has been held and we are developing a new gillnet-specific aversive light to test on nets this winter.
  • Trial of mitigation measures in Lithuania by comparing bycatch and target catch in nets with mitigation measures attached to standard (control) nets. This data collection will be conducted through a mixture of on-board observers and self-reported data from active gillnet fishers. We will conduct rigorous statistical analysis to assess the efficacy of the measures tested.
  • Collect data on bird bycatch in the Curonian Lagoon in Lithuania and Russia, again through a mixture of on-board observers and self-reporting. Use available effort data to generate an overall estimate of bycatch in the Lagoon for the first time.
  • Build awareness with Lithuanian decision makers about the bycatch issue within inshore waters and advocate for the strengthening of fisheries management through communication work, meetings, workshops and technical advice.

This project aims to benefit threatened Baltic seaducks, and our main target groups are gillnet fishermen (in Lithuania and Russia) and fisheries managers seeking to reduce seabird bycatch in gillnets (particularly within Lithuanian waters, but with high relevance to gillnet fisheries with seabird bycatch issues across the Baltic and globally).




BirdLife International


  • Lithuanian Ornithological Society
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Project region 

St. Petersburg area (Lujskij and Lomonosovskij rural districts on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland)

Project duration 

2017-07-01 – 2020-10-31


total project budget: €328.343
funding baltfc: € 256.778


The project website



© Julius Morkunas, Seabird Task Force

© Julius Morkunas, Seabird Task Force