Hundreds of thousands of seabirds, seals, turtles and dolphins are dying each year worldwide after being caught accidentally in fishing nets, a report warns.
The report by wildlife charity WWF and Sky Ocean Rescue is calling for remote electronic monitoring with cameras on fishing vessels to help address the number of wild creatures caught and killed as “bycatch”.
Conservationists urged the UK to lead the way with camera monitoring on fishing vessels in its waters, including those at high risk of wildlife bycatch.
The report highlights that at least 720,000 seabirds, 300,000 cetaceans such as dolphins, 345,000 seals and sealions, more than 250,000 turtles and millions of sharks are caught as bycatch by commercial fisheries worldwide.
Unsustainable fishing is a major threat to wildlife as vessels often, either unintentionally or on purpose and illegally, catch species they are not interested in or are prohibited from taking and selling, experts warned.
Protecting threatened and endangered species which get caught as bycatch in fishing gear is only possible if effective ways to tackle the problem are developed.
But there is currently little independent monitoring of bycatch and no accurate measurement of the problem, the conservationists said.
Remote electronic monitoring (REM) with cameras fitted on vessels would be a cost-effective way to collect data to help make fisheries sustainable, and make sure fishermen are complying with legislation.
It could also help brands show they are meeting their pledges on sustainable fishing and give consumers confidence about where their fish is coming from.
The report also said the cameras could protect independent observers who are monitoring fishing activities in person onboard vessels.
Adoption of the technology could be accelerated by developing incentives and market demand for its use, making it a regulatory requirement, and improving cost efficiency, including by using AI in the monitoring, the report said.
Helen McLachlan, programme manager, fisheries, at WWF-UK, said: “Nature is in freefall and we need urgent action to turn this around both on land and at sea.
“Effective monitoring of fisheries will help us understand their true impact on wildlife and in turn help minimise the needless death of millions of marine mammals, turtles, sharks and seabirds in fishing nets across our oceans every year.
“WWF is calling on the UK to demonstrate global leadership by adopting full monitoring with cameras across vessels fishing in our waters, including those fisheries known to be at high risk of wildlife bycatch.”
Fiona Ball, group director bigger picture, at Sky, said: “Putting the ocean on the path to recovery simply cannot wait, because the health of our oceans is inextricably linked to climate change.
“Through reports and technology like this, we will enable marine wildlife to thrive and improve the health of our waters.”
A spokesperson for the Environment Department (Defra) said: “We have a beautiful and diverse marine ecosystem, which is why we are working closely with fishermen to reduce accidental by-catch.
“We recently launched a call for evidence to examine whether monitoring technology could be used more widely on fishing boats operating in English waters, and our Fisheries Bill will soon set out policies to minimise by-catch and, where possible, eliminate it.”