Longline fishing threatens world's albatrosses and other birds with extinction

provided by American Bird Conservancy

A new report, Sudden Death On The High Seas - Longline Fishing: A Global Catastrophe For Seabirds, published by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), documents the widespread killing of hundreds of thousands of seabirds, including albatrosses, on longline fishing hooks each year. The report (online at www.abcbirds.org/policy/seabird_report.pdf) finds that seabird populations are being decimated by this practice, but that simple solutions exist to prevent the catastrophe. Albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, and fulmars are killed when they are attracted to the bait attached to hooks, reeled out from the sterns of fishing vessels on long, mono-filament lines.

    The great ocean wanderers snatch or dive on the bait as lines are set, and either swallow the hooks or are hooked in the wing or other body part and pulled under the sea to drown. Thousands of miles of lines, carrying hundreds of millions of hooks, are set by longliners throughout the world's oceans each year.

    Scientists agree that longlining is the newest and greatest threat to albatrosses and certain other seabirds. Sixteen of the world's 21 albatross species are now listed by the IUCN World Conservation Union as threatened with extinction, and all have been linked to longline fishing mortality. In 1991, it was estimated that Japanese longliners alone were killing up to 44,000 albatrosses per year. ABC's report finds that, among the hundreds of thousands of seabirds that die worldwide, more than 20,000 are killed annually in the US Alaskan longline fishery. The Hawaiian longline fleet kills thousands more. The United States is responsible for the deaths of the federally listed, endangered short-tailed albatross and the globally threatened, IUCN-listed black-footed albatross, as well as the rapidly declining Laysan albatross.

    ABC is calling for the United States to demonstrate international leadership by requiring measures that will prevent this needless slaughter. This includes mandatory deployment of by-catch reduction measures on all US vessels, more independent observers aboard fishing vessels to better document the problem, stronger regulations to prevent US imports of fish, such as Chilean sea bass (Patagonian toothfish) that has been illegally caught without regard to seabird mortality, and adoption of effective National Plans of Action under a United Nations (UN) agreement.

    Simple, effective and inexpensive measures that can virtually eliminate seabird deaths, without affecting fishing success, already exist. For example, special bird-scaring lines have been tested by researchers on Alaskan vessels and shown to virtually eliminate albatross and most other seabird by-catch. These lines are being given at no cost to Alaskan long-liners under a US Fish and Wildlife Service program. ABC believes that the use of these lines in conjunction with other simple and cost-effective measures will eliminate seabird mortality in almost all longline fisheries.

    The report is available on line at www.abcbirds.org/policy/seabird_report.pdf .

    American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a not-for-profit organization, dedicated to the conservation of wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. The fundamental role of ABC is to build coalitions of conservation groups, scientists, and members of the public, to tackle key bird priorities using the best resources available. ABC has programs to address the threats to birds from such diverse causes as habitat loss, pesticides, cats and communication towers. Visit www .abcbirds.org or call (202) 452-1535.