How we’re saving the kings of the ocean

wandering_albatross.jpg(Stephanie Winnard 22 June 2017)

It has been another busy year for the Albatross Task Force, and our teams have made good progress in reducing the bycatch of vulnerable seabirds in some of the world’s most deadly fisheries

Albatrosses are one of the most threatened groups of birds in the world, with 15 of 22 species currently at risk of extinction. One of the major causes of their decline is being caught accidentally as bycatch on baited longline hooks or struck by trawl cables and dragged under the water.

Horrifyingly it’s estimated that around 100,000 albatross die every year in longline and trawl fisheries around the globe. For birds that are long-lived yet slow to breed, these deaths have lead to huge population declines with some colonies having halved in size since the 1990’s.

To combat these needless deaths the Albatross Task Force was set up in 2006 to find solutions to this problem, and work with fisheries and governments to save the albatross. Over the last 12 months the team has made good progress towards saving vulnerable seabirds in some of the world’s most deadly fisheries, the details of which are in our new report.

8/10 of our high priority fisheries now have regulations in place to protect seabirds, following an announcement from Argentina that seabird regulations are to be introduced by May 2018 that will require trawlers to use bird-scaring lines.

The benefit for seabirds in Argentina will be huge, as the main trawl fleet is responsible for the death of 13,500 black-browed albatross per year, an impact we expect to reduce by over 85% based on our experimental results.

Across the Atlantic in Namibia, since seabird regulations came into force there, 100% of trawl and demersal longline vessels have now been provisioned with bird-scaring lines, constructed through our collaboration with a local women’s group, Meme Itumbapo.

By next year we hope to show that Namibia has achieved significant bycatch reductions similar to South Africa where we documented a 99% reduction in albatross deaths in the trawl fishery following the introduction of bird-scaring lines. This will be a major win for albatross, as our estimates for the two Namibian fleets suggest in excess of 25,000 seabirds were previously killed annually.

Our work in small scale fisheries has also leapt forward over the last 12 months; in Chile we have shown that modifications to purse-seine net design has the potential to reduce shearwater bycatch massively, and in Peru trials of net lights have virtually eliminated bycatch of not just seabirds, but also turtles and marine mammals.

This is all hugely exciting as no mitigation measures previously existed for these types of fisheries.

All of these successes have only been possible due to the collaborative efforts between our in country partners, the RSPB and BirdLife International, plus generous funding from RSPB membership, external sponsors and many kind individual donations.

We are extremely thankful for the continued support we receive, without which we wouldn’t be able to keep up the fight to save the albatross.

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