High-seas heroes saving albatrosses from extinction: a decade of success

Katie Phoenix

Wednesday 8 June 2016

  • The Albatross Task Force (ATF), a team of experts led by the RSPB and BirdLife International, was launched ten years ago to reduce the number of albatrosses and petrels accidently killed by fisheries in the Southern Ocean.
  • The ATF has been highly successful in that time, achieving a 99% reduction in albatross deaths in the South African hake trawl fishery through the introduction of bird-scaring lines, a simple solution which prevents seabirds from interacting with fishing equipment.
  • Thanks to their work, seven out of the ten fisheries originally identified as seabird bycatch hotspots have now adopted regulations to protect seabirds during fishing.

· The ATF is working with local governments to ensure all target fleets are complying with the recommended mitigation methods

On World Oceans Day, an international team of experts that works to prevent seabirds getting killed unintentionally in fishing lines is celebrating ten years of conservation success.

Albatrosses are one of the most threatened groups of birds in the world. Every year, an estimated 100,000 albatrosses are incidentally killed on longline fishing hooks and trawl cables. This fishery mortality is the main driver of albatross population declines, and 15 of the 22 species of albatross are threatened with extinction.

The RSPB and BirdLife International launched the ATF to reduce the number of albatrosses and petrels deaths through the introduction of simple and effective mitigation measures, and ultimately to improve the conservation status of threatened seabirds. Measures include the use of bird-scaring lines, setting baited hooks under the cover of darkness and weighting hook lines to help them sink rapidly out of reach of foraging birds.

A new report shows that since its launch in 2006, the Albatross Task Force has been extremely successful. Albatross bycatch has been reduced by 99% in the South African hake trawl fishery and experimental trials demonstrate at least 85% reductions in seabird bycatch are possible in six other fisheries where regulations that require the use of bird-safe methods on their boats are now in place.

The ATF works through BirdLife International partners and local NGOs in the Southern Hemisphere, and have spent over 5,000 days at sea to demonstrate how to keep seabirds off the hook. ATF recommendations are based on rigorous scientific testing, working side by side with the fishing industry.

Oliver Yates, ATF Programme Manager, said: "Albatrosses are magnificent seabirds and it's a truly breath-taking experience to see them at sea. They are among the largest flying birds and have the largest wingspans of any bird in the world, reaching up to an incredible 3.5m.

"Albatrosses spend most of their lives at sea and only come onto land to breed. As a third of albatrosses breed in UK Overseas Territories it is our duty to protect these threatened birds and encourage other governments to do the same whilst in their waters.

"The ATF have made some great achievements over the last ten years but we still need to ensure all vessels in all fleets are effectively implementing the mitigation measures recommended for the fishery, and that this becomes sustainable in the long-term."

Patricia Zurita, CEO at Birdlife International, said: "By saving albatrosses from accidental death behind fishing boats, we are saving one of the most threatened groups of birds from extinction.

"BirdLife has proven this works with a decade of research, refining solutions and working with fishermen. Now it is time to expand this model worldwide so we can ensure no bird is needlessly caught by fisheries ever again in the future."

Large reductions in seabird bycatch have been achieved where governments have supported the adoption of regulations and the ATF has demonstrated that similar reductions of albatross deaths are possible in other target fisheries if these mitigation methods are put into practice. This requires improving levels of compliance through national fishery monitoring initiatives.

Clemens Naomab, Albatross Task Force Instructor in Namibia, said: "When you find out you are saving 30,000 birds a year, it's a wonderful experience. It's worth all the days of seasickness!

"Fishermen don't want to catch seabirds, it is accidental. The simple changes we introduce on boats and in policy not only eliminate this bycatch, but are good for fishermen too. I don't see another way that would work better than what we are doing now."

To find out how you can help save the albatross visit www.rspb.org.uk/albatross

1. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations. www.rspb.org.uk www.birdlife.org

2. Albatross Task Force: In 2006 the RSPB and Birdlife International launched the Albatross Task Force, the world's first international team of bycatch mitigation instructors. The Albatross Task Force is a BirdLife International project funded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and supported through a network of collaborating non-governmental organisations.

3. ATF report: The ATF annual report 2016 reflects on the advances in the ten target fisheries over the last ten years and the future challenges the ATF faces. A link to the report can be found here.

4. Albatross Task Force videos

5. Saving Albatrosses - how to reduce seabird bycatch (technical video for fisheries produced by the Albatross Task Force): here

Tagged with: Country: International Topic: Save the albatross