February 23, 2009

Endangered Albatross Catches A Break

Thanks to a scheme that reduces the number of seabirds that are accidentally killed by the fishing industry, the outlook for the endangered albatross is looking better.

Three-quarters of albatross species are at risk of extinction, mostly due to the long lines that are deployed to catch fish like tuna.

Initiatives by South Africa show how the lines can be made safer.

In 2006, the Albatross Task Force (ATF) project launched, and last year it cut the number of birds killed in South African fisheries by 85%.

The U.K.'s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) now hopes the scheme will expand to other countries.

One of the organizers, Meidad Goren, said, "Fishermen now understand that in order to continue fishing they must avoid killing seabirds, and are very cooperative."

The task force, which is a combined effort of the RSPB and Birdlife International, placed specialist instructors on fishing boats to show fisherman how to prevent birds from becoming entangled.

This technique involves attaching brightly colored streamers, known as tori lines, to the back of vessels.  These streamers flap in the wind and scare away birds from the baited lines.

Fishermen have also been encouraged to set their lines at night, when birds are least active.  Also, they have been encouraged to find new ways to weigh the lines down more effectively so the bait sinks out of reach more quickly.

There have been incentives for crews who comply, because last year the conditions for obtaining a fishing permit stipulated that no more than 25 birds may be caught as "by-catch" during trips.

Dr Ross Wanless, coordinator of the Birdlife program in Africa, said, "We have to adopt an ecosystem approach to fisheries to minimize the impacts of fishing on non-target species, including seabirds."

"Changing entrenched attitudes and practices is a slow process, but the ATF has shown that by working with government and industry, change is possible."

The Prince of Wales, a conservationist, heard about the albatross scheme first hand on Monday during a reception at Clarence House.


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