It's time for a turn on tuna
Fishing for tuna - a staple of sandwiches, jacket spuds and baguettes the world over - is creating a needless conservation crisis, as many species of seabird facing extinction are dying at the hands of the longline fishing fleet targeting the highly-prized fish. That's the message that was recently delivered by BirdLife to a meeting of organisations responsible for managing tuna fishing on the high seas.
A meeting held in Brisbane, Australia last week provided a unique opportunity to focus on the steps required by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations that regulate the tuna fishing industries across the world's tropical and temperate oceans to reduce bycatch of seabird, turtles, sharks and marine mammals.
Collectively, these organisations have it within their powers to end the misery of bycatch, which sees the needless deaths of many non-target species, including turtles and albatrosses.
“…in just a few decades we are bringing 17 of the world’s 22 [albatross] species to the brink of extinction” —Dr Ben Sullivan, co-ordinator of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme
BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme reminded delegates at the meeting of the simple measures allowing vessels to continue catching fish while reducing the bycatch of threatened species. Some positive gains were made at the meeting including the establishment of a joint technical working group to provide best practice scientific advice that is consistent across all high seas tuna fisheries, but we have a long way to go to halt the populatuion declines of many albatross and petrel populations and those of other bycatch species.
Dr Ben Sullivan is the co-ordinator of BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme and represented a coalition of bird conservation organisations at the meeting. "It is time for the tuna fishing industry to address the bycatch issue once and for all by ensuring that vessels are equipped with the simple gear they need to prevent them from killing these ocean wanderers", said Ben. "Albatrosses have roamed the world's oceans for 50 million years, and yet in just a few decades we are bringing 17 of the world's 22 species to the brink of extinction."
By far the biggest threat to albatrosses is death on longline fishing hooks. As the name suggests, it involves very long lines of baited hooks - a single vessel may use a line extending for 80 miles (130 km), from which can hang as many as 20,000 hooks, each baited with a piece of fish or squid.
“There is enough evidence to prove that longline fishing fleets can catch fish without catching birds”
The slaughter of seabirds takes place when the hooks are still visible near the sea's surface. Foraging birds spot them and try to grab the bait before it sinks. They are hooked, dragged under, and drowned. When the line is pulled in, the dead bird is removed and discarded - a poor outcome for the fishermen, who would rather catch fish.
Simple and inexpensive mitigation measures can be highly successful in reducing seabird bycatch, especially when used in combination. To promote these techniques, BirdLife International and the RSPB (BirdLife Partner in the UK) formed the Albatross Task Force: the world's first team of dedicated instructors to demonstrate the correct use of mitigation measures to fishermen, and to develop and test new measures. As an international team of mitigation experts, the Albatross Task Force works at the frontline of seabird conservation in seabird bycatch 'hotspots'.
Dr Ben Sullivan said: "There is enough evidence to prove that longline fishing fleets can catch fish without catching birds. It is time for consumers to know they can eat a tuna sandwich without fearing that an albatross has paid the ultimate price for their lunchtime snack."
Credits: Global Seabird Programme