14/05/2014
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Albatross Task Force celebrates conservation success

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Juvenile Black-browed Albatross caught on a baited longline hook, off the coast of Brazil; the bird was later released by Albatross Task Force instructor Fabiano Peppes. Photo: Fabiano Peppes (www.rspb-images.com).
Juvenile Black-browed Albatross caught on a baited longline hook, off the coast of Brazil; the bird was later released by Albatross Task Force instructor Fabiano Peppes. Photo: Fabiano Peppes (www.rspb-images.com).
At a special event at Fishmonger’s Hall in London yesterday, the success of an international collaboration to help stop albatrosses and other seabirds from being killed by long line fishing was celebrated.

The Albatross Task Force raised their glasses to the news that then technique of attaching streamers to the fishing lines is saving the lives of 99 per cent of albatrosses which would otherwise have perished in a single South African hake fishery. This was all down to the efforts of the task force – a team of at-sea instructors established by the RSPB and BirdLife International in 2005 – along with the assistance of industry and governments.

Fifteen of the world’s 22 albatross species are threatened with extinction, and by-catch in trawl and longline fisheries is a key reason behind the decline of these magnificent ocean wanderers, especially in areas around the Southern Ocean.

The principle of the task force – which began in South Africa and now operates in seven countries – is to use a team of instructors working with fishermen at sea to find ways of reducing the numbers of seabirds being entangled or otherwise harmed by fishing operations. In the South African fishery, the simple technique was to scare scavenging seabirds away from hazardous fishing gear and cables by attaching harmless streamer lines to deter them from approaching too closely.

Prince Charles attended the VIP event, and congratulated the task force and the fishing industry on their efforts to date, and expressed his hope that the successes can be repeated across the global fishing fleet to protect other endangered seabird populations.

The event was organised by the International Sustainability Unit, which The Prince of Wales established in 2010 to facilitate consensus on how to resolve some of the key environmental challenges, and the RSPB.

Chief Executive of the RSPB , Dr Mike Clarke said: “The UK has a huge international responsibility for seabirds, as the UK Overseas Territories, such as the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha, host over one third of the world’s nesting albatrosses. When we helped launch the Albatross Task Force we knew we were facing an enormous challenge in preventing the slide of some of the world’s albatrosses towards extinction. With continued support from His Royal Highness and the dedication of the team members facing some of the harshest weather conditions in the world, the outlook for albatross populations is now brighter.”

In recent years, deep-sea trawl fisheries have been identified as another major cause of accidental seabird deaths. Trawlers use large nets, held in the water by thick cables, to capture fish living on the sea floor. Thousands of seabirds, especially albatrosses and petrels, are attracted to the trawlers when fish offal is discarded. While scavenging, seabirds are vulnerable to becoming entangled with the cables, and being dragged underwater and drowning.

“We’ve worked closely with this fishery since the early 2000s to demonstrate that avoiding seabird by-catch is good for business and for the environment. Moreover, it’s relatively easy given the right tools,” said Bronwyn Maree, Albatross Task Force Leader for BirdLife South Africa. “Bird-scaring lines have now become part of everyday life at sea and fishermen no longer resist their use.”
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