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The albatross is one of the most iconic and majestic seabirds, revered by sailors as they travel the high seas. Sailors believe that albatrosses can help them navigate difficult waters and consider it very unlucky to kill an albatross. However albatrosses are also the world’s most imperilled seabird species.
Recognising the need to take action, for the past twenty years Humane Society International has been working to reduce one of the main threats to albatross, that posed by fishing for southern bluefin tuna using longlines. Longline fishing is thought to have been responsible for an estimated 10,000 deaths of albatrosses and petrels each year, as the birds get attracted to the bait on hooks as the longlines are set and get hooked and drown.
Longline fishing is thought to have been responsible for an estimated 10,000 deaths of albatrosses and petrels each year. Image: JJ Harrison | WIkimedia Commons
In an attempt to stop these needless deaths, Humane Society International has been attending meetings of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) for the past 20 years. This is the international body, consisting of all fishing nations who fish for the lucrative southern bluefin tuna, which meets annually and is responsible for monitoring the state of the southern bluefin tuna stock, and setting catch limits. CCSBT is also responsible for ensuring that the impacts of fishing on the broader environment are minimised, especially when it comes to so called ‘bycatch’ of other species such as sharks and albatrosses. With 17 of the world’s 24 albatross species range’s overlapping with the fishing area for southern bluefin tuna it is clear to see that members of the CCSBT cannot escape responsibility for seabird deaths in their fisheries. Especially when these deaths are contributing to the near extinction of some of these species.
The solution is simple and has been in place in Antarctic fisheries for 20 years. To stop any seabirds from getting hooked and dragged to their death underwater, fishers simply have to use three measures: they need to set their hooks at night when bird activity is lower, use weighted lines to ensure the baited hooks sink rapidly out of the seabirds reach to reduce the chance of them stealing the bait and getting caught on the hooks, and finally boats need to use bird scaring lines, which are long streamers which are flown either side of the fishing line to deter seabirds from flying too close to the line and keep them away from the hooks.
With 17 of the world’s 24 albatross species range’s overlapping with the fishing area for southern bluefin tuna, CCSBT members cannot escape responsibility for seabird deaths in their fisheries. Image: Nigel Brothers
Whilst no measure is foolproof, these are the three key measures that seabird experts at the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels have come up with as best practice that Humane Society International has been calling for to ensure as few seabirds as possible are killed. We need to ensure these three measures are mandatory for all southern bluefin tuna fishing to give albatrosses the best chance for recovery.
Sadly to date our efforts to get binding measures in place have been frustrated by a lack of political will by some countries. This year, once again the issue is back on the table and we are hoping that fishing nations will agree clear, binding requirements to use effective measures to prevent albatross deaths. Humane Society International is once again at this meeting, ensuring that the CCSBT member nations, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the European Union and others, are held to account. Countries fishing this important resource must take their responsibilities for the broader environment seriously and agree that it is time to save the albatross.
Blog image: HSI will this week be at the CCSBT meeting to ensure member nations are held to account in their measures to protect the iconic albatross. Image: iStock/Cassie Tait