13 May 2014

Hopes soar for threatened albatrosses as Prince Charles hears of global conservation success

Working with industry and governments, BirdLife's Albatross Task Force has reduced the numbers of albatrosses being killed by flying into cables in the South African hake trawl fishery by 99%
By Martin Fowlie

Later today at a special event at Fishmonger’s Hall in London, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, will hear of the success of a collaboration that is saving the lives of 99% of the globally threatened albatrosses which would otherwise have accidentally perished in a single South African fishery.

Fifteen of the world’s twenty two albatross species are threatened with extinction, and bycatch in trawl and longline fisheries is a key reason behind the decline of these magnificent ocean wanderers, especially in areas around the Southern Ocean. His Royal Highness has taken a strong personal interest in the conservation of these iconic seabirds.

Thanks to the efforts of the Albatross Task Force - a team of at-sea instructors run by the RSPB on behalf of the Marine Programme, and launched by HRH in 2005 - industry and governments, the numbers of albatrosses being killed by flying into cables in the South African hake trawl fishery has reduced by 99%. The principle of the Albatross Task Force - which first started in South Africa and now operates in seven countries - is to use a team of instructors working with fishermen at sea to find ways of reducing the numbers of seabirds being entangled or otherwise harmed by fishing operations. In this fishery, the simple technique was to scare scavenging seabirds away from hazardous fishing gear and cables using harmless streamer lines to deter them from approaching too closely.

In recent years, deep-sea trawl fisheries have been identified as a major cause of accidental seabird deaths. Trawlers use large nets, held in the water by thick cables, to capture fish living on the sea floor. Thousands of seabirds, especially albatrosses and petrels, are attracted to the trawlers when fish offal is discarded. While scavenging, seabirds are vulnerable to becoming entangled with the cables, and being dragged underwater and drowning.

“We’ve worked closely with this fishery since the early 2000s to demonstrate that avoiding seabird bycatch is good for business and for the environment. Moreover it’s relatively easy given the right tools.” said Bronwyn Maree, Albatross Task Force Leader for BirdLife South Africa. “Bird scaring lines have now become part of everyday life at sea and fishermen no longer resist their use”

HRH is expected to congratulate the Task Force and the fishing industry on their successes to date and to express his hope that these can be repeated across global fishing fleet to protect other endangered seabird populations.

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Today’s event has been organised by the International Sustainability Unit, which HRH The Prince of Wales established in 2010 to facilitate consensus on how to resolve some of the key environmental challenges, and the RSPB.

Dr Mike Clarke is the Chief Executive of the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) said, “The UK has a huge international responsibility for seabirds as the UK Overseas Territories, such as the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha, host over one third of the world’s nesting albatrosses. When we helped launch the Albatross Task Force we knew we were facing an enormous challenge in preventing the slide of some of the world’s albatrosses towards extinction. With continued support from His Royal Highness and the dedication of the team members facing some of the harshest weather conditions in the world, the outlook for albatross populations is brighter today.”