Americas
23 Mar 2017

Argentina approves measures to save seabirds

The use of measures to prevent seabird bycatch deaths has just been approved by the Argentinean government—a decision that will save the lives of thousands of seabirds.

Seabirds such as the Wandering Albatross will benefit from the new measures © vladsilver/Shutterstock
Seabirds such as the Wandering Albatross will benefit from the new measures © vladsilver/Shutterstock
By Francisco González Táboas & Leo Tamini, Aves Argentinas

The use of measures to prevent seabird bycatch deaths has just been approved by the Argentinean government—a decision that will save the lives of thousands of seabirds.

Daily life is not easy for a fisherman in the South Atlantic. Bad weather, waves several meters high and the constant movement of the boat make their tasks difficult. The days, weeks and months away from their families accumulate and make the return to land a desirable prospect. However, most of these men—and women—love the sea. They love the fish, which give them work and sustenance. And they love seabirds too. The immense and impressive albatrosses and petrels are, along with dolphins and whales, their faithful companions on the high seas.

More often than they’d like, they watch seabirds die, accidentally caught in their fishing nets or struck by cables towing the net. Studies estimate that between 9,000 and 18,000 black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophrys are killed every year, and this is only taking into account those that are killed by Argentine hake trawlers.

Through the Albatross Task Force, BirdLife Partner, Aves Argentinas has been working with fishermen to recognise and identify the seabird species they encounter every day: black-browed albatross, Cape petrel, southern giant petrel, shy albatross, southern royal albatross and, the king of the seas, the wandering albatross, all inhabit these icy waters.

Petrels will also benefit from the measures  © Leo Tamini

Each time one of them is killed, it hurts. Fortunately the fishermen have also learnt that measures can be taken to prevent these birds being killed. Bird-scaring lines are a valuable ally, and can prevent the deaths of thousands of albatrosses and petrels every year. Bird-scaring lines are colourful streamers that keep birds away from danger areas, such as the trawl cables that tow the net. Biologists, technicians and fishermen have learned together to set them up, use them and improve the design.

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Last week, everyone—including the seabirds—had great news from Argentina: the Federal Fisheries Council, the agency that regulates fisheries, announced the use of bird-scaring lines will become a compulsory mitigation measure in the trawl fishery to protect seabirds. It will be a voluntary measure until May 1, 2018 and mandatory from that date.

Over the last few months, the Argentinean team members of the Albatross Task Force, with the support of the National Fisheries Secretariat, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the National Institute for Research and Fisheries Development (INIDEP), the University of Mar del Plata (IIMyC-CONICET) and Fundación Vida Silvestre developed the draft resolution for the use of bird-scaring lines on trawlers, which was approved unanimously last week by the members of the Federal Fisheries Council.

Seabirds know no boundaries, and an albatross saved from death in Argentinean seas may reach New Zealand waters just a few days later. Our seabirds unite us and so does this excellent news.

Fishermen working with an ATF instructor, Nahuel Chavez  © ATF Argentina