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Long-line Fishing And The Destruction Of The Albatross

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hatrack Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jan-23-04 10:59 AM
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Long-line Fishing And The Destruction Of The Albatross

"Wandering albatrosses are huge, solitary, near-mythical birds who mate for life. With wingspans of up to four meters (12 feet), they're the largest flying creatures on Earth and can spend months far beyond land, seeming to revel in the fierce winds of the Roaring Forties. They are Southern Hemisphere, circumpolar birds, as are most of the other 23 albatross species. Back at home, John Cooper of the Avian Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town confirmed that albatross numbers are dropping fast: 21 species are considered endangered. In their last three generations, wandering albatross populations have decreased by 20 percent. "There are several reasons for this decline," he said, "but longline fishing was top of the list."

Longlining is a relatively new technique which boomed following the international ban on "wall-of-death" drift nets. Lines of up to 130 kilometers (81 miles) with baited hooks every few meters are spooled or 'shot' overboard and then reeled in several hours later. Current targets include tuna, hake, swordfish, and Patagonian toothfish, an endangered species. Because the line is generally shot from deck height, it's suspended in the air for some meters, then floats on the surface briefly before, hopefully, sinking. In the southern oceans thousands of petrels and albatrosses will hang around a single boat. If they grab a bait they can get hooked, pulled under, and drowned.


But it turned out the local lads weren't all as squeaky clean as they seemed. At the tail end of a discussion about longlining, Barry Watkins of Marine and Coastal Management slipped me a research paper titled Seabird Bycatch by Tuna Longline Fisheries off Southern Africa by Peter Ryan and David Keith of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute and Marcel Kroese of Marine and Coastal Management. "I guess it's OK to give it to you," he said. "But you're not going to like it. Actually, it's frightening.... "

It was. The report was on the estimated mortality of seabirds within South Africa's 200-kilometer (124-mile) exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It was compiled from observers on 13 commercial fishing boats, two being Japanese and the rest South African. Multiplying the average bycatch for each 1,000 hooks by the 11 million hooks known to be shot in South African waters each year, the researchers estimated the annual bycatch in local waters to be between 19,000 and 30,000 birds a year 70 percent of them albatrosses. Even though lines on the boats observed were shot at night, and despite the obvious fact that skippers with observers on board would tend to be more cautious, these numbers are threatening the future existence of these birds.

Beyond South Africa's territorial waters the situation is much worse. There are around 3.5 million fishing vessels operating globally. These catch about 94 million tons of fish a year of which an estimated 27 million tons is discarded as bycatch."

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