Thursday, 28 June 2007

Trawling identified as major new threat to albatross conservation

An estimated 100,000 albatrosses die annually in the longline fishing industry, but recent research has highlighted that large numbers of albatrosses are also dying in trawl fisheries. In one recent study, 12,000 albatrosses are estimated to have died in the South African trawl fishery in one year.

As new threats for albatrosses emerge – heightening their risk of extinction – the RSPB, in conjunction with BirdLife International, is aiming to spend up to £2 million over the next five years, doubling the capacity of its Albatross Task Force programme.

Currently, the Albatross Task Force employs seven full-time personnel: three in South Africa; two in Brazil; and two in Chile. The RSPB hopes to expand the work of the task force in other albatross hot-spots, especially those along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America.

Dr Euan Dunn, Head of Marine Policy at the RSPB, said: “Operating in some of the world’s most dangerous environments, seven task force members are already working with the fishing industry in the southern hemisphere preventing the deaths of albatrosses and other seabirds. Extending the programme will enable us to double the number of task force instructors and reach several new countries.”

The work of the Albatross Task Force can be seen on BBC1 at 7 pm on Thursday 28 June, as Carol Thatcher investigates the plight of albatrosses as part of the BBC’s Saving Planet Earth series.

Dr Dunn is hugely encouraged by the difference the Albatross Task Force is making to the future of these iconic seabirds. He said: “Fishing practices pose by far the greatest threats to the survival of albatrosses. These birds are dying at sea right now and they need our help urgently. Putting task force members on as many vessels as possible today will help prevent these birds’ deaths tomorrow.”

Albatross Task Force members crucially advise fishing crews on the simple and cost-effective ways to avoid catching albatrosses that steal bait from the longline hooks. Measures such as weighting the lines, so they sink more quickly, or attaching streamer (bird-scaring) lines to the stern of the vessels have proved highly effective.

In the trawl fisheries, research has shown that albatrosses, and other seabirds, can become entangled and drowned in fishing gear. A vital part of the Albatross Task Force will be to encourage crews to use effective mitigation measures, such as bird-scaring lines.

* The work of the Albatross Task Force features in a special article in the July issue of Birdwatch, on sale now in all good newsagents.

Photo: Peter Exley (