Campaign to prevent albatross bycatch stepped up Published: 28 March, 2008
FIGHTING to save the albatross from extinction, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and BirdLife International are to double the number of countries in which they work. New research from Namibia, Uruguay and Argentina highlights these iconic seabirds are dying in large numbers in the longline and trawl fisheries operating in these countries waters.
A recent report shows that Namibian longline fisheries alone kill over 30,000 seabirds, including albatrosses, every year. All three countries represent globally important hotspots for albatrosses, especially those from the South Atlantic UK overseas territories of South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and Tristan da Cunha. Seven species, accounting for over one third of all of the worlds albatrosses, breed on these territories.
In response to these emerging threats, the RSPB and BirdLife International have decided to commit more than £2million to double the reach of the Albatross Task Force the worlds first international team of experts advising fishermen at sea and on shore about ways to reduce seabird deaths by making fishing techniques more albatross friendly.
The organisers of the initiative – part of the BirdLife Internationals Global Seabird Programme – believe doubling the programme, from three to six countries, will prevent the needless deaths of seabirds in these newly recognised priority areas.
Dr Ben Sullivan, the Global Seabird Programme Co-ordinator, said: Operating in some of the harshest seas in the world, the Albatross Task Force has made outstanding first steps towards its goal of reducing seabird bycatch and stemming the decline of albatross populations.
All 22 species of albatross are birds of conservation concern and 19 species are facing global extinction. The Albatross Task Force has made outstanding first steps in our fight to save these iconic birds.
One of the most heavily affected areas is the South Atlantic where albatross populations are suffering the steepest declines, particularly on the UK overseas territories of South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and Tristan da Cunha.
For example, for every 100 pairs of albatross nesting on South Georgia, we are losing four every year. These declines are not happening around the island, where fisheries adopting albatross-friendly fishing have brought albatross bycatch to zero, but they are happening largely in the South Atlantic, especially off the coasts of southern Africa and South America.
Globally, albatrosses are estimated to be dying at the rate of one every five minutes, principally at the hands of the longline fishing industry, where birds can drown if they become snagged on longline hooks as they try to seize the bait used to catch fish.
Research by the Albatross Task Force in South Africa has highlighted a high rate of mortality of albatrosses and other seabirds in the trawl fisheries, where birds collide with cables or become entangled in nets.
The Albatross Task Force is saving the lives of albatrosses by working with fishermen and by highlighting the scale of seabird bycatch to governments who can insist on measures being taken by the crews of those fishing vessels seeking to renew fishing licences.
One of the key measures to lower albatross mortality is to encourage owners and skippers to attach streamer lines to the stern of their vessels. These lines discourage albatrosses from flying too close to the boats, where the birds are most vulnerable. Provisional information from the Albatross Task Force in Brazil suggests that streamer lines are an effective mitigation measure. Before the task force started operating in Brazil in September 2006 – only one vessel in the longline fleet was using mitigation measures, but now half the fleet has adopted the measures.
Dr Ben Sullivan added: Early results from the Brazilian Task Force suggest that the number of birds killed is more than halved when vessels are deploying streamer lines.
We are delighted that the Task Force is showing signs of success. Albatrosses are dying today needlessly. The increase in the Albatross Task Force will enable us to put more members on boats to prevent more albatrosses dying tomorrow.
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ATF in Brazil is represented by Projeto Albatroz whose main sponsor the Programa Petrobras Ambiental.