Trawlers found to be a new threat to albatross survival

Posted: 25 June 2007

It is well known that some 100,000 albatrosses die annually in the longline fishing industry, but recent research has shown 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 UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (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.

Black-browed albatross
Black-browed albatross
Black-browed albatross, Falkland Islands. Photo credit: Grahame Madge/RSPB
Currently, the Albatross Task Force employs seven full-time posts: three in South Africa; two people in Brazil; and two in Chile. The aim now is to expand this work in other albatross hotspots, 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."

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.

Fitting streamers

"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."

Streamers to protect albatrosses
Streamers to protect albatrosses
Streamer lines protect birds by scaring them away from the hooks. Photo © Birdlife International/Jim Enticott
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 has won praise from Prince Charles. The Save the Albatross campaign has a number of other high-profile supporters, including Dame Ellen MacArthur and Sir David Attenborough.

The latest appeal for Wildlife Explorers (junior RSPB members) is to raise funds to recruit an Albatross Task Force member. It is hoped that young people across the UK will have raised enough to enable the Society to appoint another person to the programme.

Dr Euan Dunn added: "Albatrosses can live as long as we do, so these young people are making a lifetime's investment."

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

Prince Charles's support for albatross conservation can be heard in a new podcast available from the RSPB.

Related links:Save the Albatross