The Albatross Task Force

Facing extinction

Albatrosses are stunning, long-lived seabirds that spend much of their lives soaring over the ocean. Inevitably, this lifestyle brings them into contact with fishing vessels. Sadly, they’re often accidentally captured in fishing gear (known as bycatch), and this is driving population declines: 15 of the 22 albatross species are now threatened with extinction.

Albatross Task Force

The Albatross Task Force – an international team of seabird bycatch mitigation experts led by the RSPB and BirdLife International – is on a mission to reduce seabird bycatch by 80% in some of the deadliest fisheries for albatrosses.

By working both on board vessels, showing fishing crews simple ways to stop killing seabirds, and with government to implement regulations, we’ve demonstrated that things can drastically change for the better. South Africa has been a shining example of how this is can work, with an astounding 99% reduction in albatross deaths since our team started there in 2006!

With your support, we can save 50,000 seabirds from a needless death every year.

What's the problem?

Albatrosses mainly feed on squid and fish on the surface of the water, so foraging for bait or discarded fish around fishing vessels mirrors their natural behaviour. Sadly, for many it's their last meal.

Trawl vessels discard offal (fish heads and guts) as they process their catch. This attracts albatrosses, which can smell this free meal from 12 miles (20 km) away, bringing them dangerously close to the trawl cables towing the net through the water. As they engage in a feeding frenzy behind the vessel, they can be fatally struck by these cables and dragged under by them.

Albatrosses and other seabirds also scavenge on baited hooks set by longline vessels. This bait is used to target larger fish species, but as it takes some time to sink to its fishing depth, scavenging albatrosses can attack the baits, get caught on the hooks and, ultimately, drown.

Fixing the problem

Simple and inexpensive activities, known as bycatch “mitigation measures” are highly effective in preventing these unintentional deaths in trawl and longline fisheries:

  • Bird scaring lines
    Bird-scaring lines (also known as tori lines) are lines with colourful streamers that can be towed behind fishing vessels to scare birds away from baited hooks or trawl cables.
  • Night setting
    Fishing at night can significantly reduce seabird bycatch, since most seabird species don’t actively forage in the dark.
  • Line weighting
    Adding weights to longlines makes baited hooks sink faster. This reduces the window of opportunity for foraging seabirds to attack the baits and get caught.

Researching new mitigation measures

As well as encouraging fleets to follow these “best practice” mitigation measures, we’re also working with our target fleets to develop new mitigation measures, and troubleshoot problems with existing measures.

Download the Towards Seabird-Safe Fisheries (13 MB) leaflet for more information.

The ATF forms part of the BirdLife International Marine Programme, which is hosted by the RSPB. Find out more about the wider work of the programme on:

The ATF’s target fleets and the species we’re saving

With your help we can make trawl and longline fisheries safer for seabirds across the world; and we can find new ways of reducing bycatch.

Please donate today to help save the albatross from extinction.


Photography credits:

Dimas Gianuca
Alexis Osborne
Nahuel Chavez
Leo Tamini
Barry Watkins
Oliver Prince
Stephanie Winnard