The survival chances of the albatross, now officially the most threatened seabird family in the world, have been improved following a new report released by WWF-South Africa.
At least 28 species of albatross and petrel have been caught by South African fisheries, of which 13 are threatened with extinction. The birds are caught trying to retrieve bait from longline fishing hooks, or are injured or killed during trawling operations. A deterioration of their breeding habitats and targeted hunting operations are other factors.
Samantha Petersen, manager of the WWF-South Africa Responsible Fisheries Programme, said that the report - “Understanding and Mitigating Vulnerable Bycatch in Southern African Trawl and Longline Fisheries” - improved substantially the understanding of the circumstances under which seabirds were killed.
“The findings help accurately identify management measures to reduce the wasteful killing of these magnificent birds while not unnecessarily disrupting fishing activities or impacting other vulnerable marine life like turtles and sharks,” said Dr Petersen.
The report, which follows WWF’s release of the results of four years of groundbreaking longline marine turtle bycatch data in Latin America, reinforces the need for fishermen to implement the mandatory and readily available measures that help prevent birds from becoming entangled in fishing gear.
“While this information is valuable, it’s crucial that it translates into compliance with mitigation measures on the part of fishing operations,” added Dr Petersen.
The report says that bird-scaring lines have proved to be simple yet effective way of preventing seabirds from being snagged during longline fishing, and similar measures have helped limit the impact of other fishing techniques.
The report also for the first time describes the movements of two of the most common species, Black-browed and White-capped Albatrosses, in South African waters and provides insights into how they are using the waters and how much they are dependent on fishery discards.
“This has management implications for seabirds because of the dramatic changes in marine ecosystems as a result of past fishing activities,” said Dr Pederesen. “The possibility exists that management actions could place a further burden on these species.
“Albatrosses and petrels undertake amazing journeys where many species frequently circumnavigate the globe crossing many national and international jurisdictions as well as coming across numerous fishing fleets from various nations.
“The health of our oceans can in many ways be judged by the health of our seabirds. Only together can we have any hope of saving these birds from extinction and protect our oceans.”
The report also informed the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) working parties which met in South Africa last week. The 12 countries signatory to this convention, observers and NGOs including WWF have started discussions on how nations can collaborate on the international problem.
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