Albatrosses are iconic seabirds that spend most of their life at sea, coming ashore primarily to breed. These long-lived ocean wanderers face many threats:
However, the largest threat that albatrosses face is getting caught in longline and trawlers fishing gear.
Longline fishing vessels set lines that can extend for over one hundred kilometers. Each line contains tens of thousands of baited hooks that float on the surface for a while before sinking deeper under the water, out of an albatross’s reach. Being the opportunistic scavengers they are, albatrosses gather around fishing vessels and quickly pounce on the bait before it sinks. Once an albatross grabs the bait, the bird is caught on the hook and drowns as the lines sink below the water.
Fishing trawlersalso pose a risk. Fishing crews aboard trawlers process their catch onboard so that they can catch more fish. The unwanted offal (heads and innards) are discarded overboard, attracting albatrosses who smell a free lunch from miles away. During the feeding frenzy that ensues, albatrosses can become entangled in fishing nets or they can collide with the cables used to drag the trawl nets through the water and back onboard, ending up getting caught up in the nets and dragged through the water along with the fish in the haul.
An estimated 100.000 albatrosses, are killed by fishing gear every year. Considering the multiple threats faced by albatrosses, and the fact that as long-living species some albatross species only breed every second year, laying just a single egg at each breeding attempt, the mortality rate is higher than the rate at which they are producing offspring. This is unsustainable and is causing the population of many albatross species to decline rapidly. We are in grave danger of losing these iconic seabirds. As a result of this continued bycatch, amongst other hazards, 17 of the world’s 22 albatross species are currently threatened with extinction – nine of which are listed as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Redlist of Threatenes Species.
There are several cheap, yet effective solutions that can be implemented to address the problem of seabird bycatch resulting from longlining and trawling fishing practices, including:
WSO Save the Albatross Campaign
The World Sustainability Organization’s Friend of the Sea project provides financial support for the Save the Albatross campaign, led by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). In 2006, as part of the Save the Albatross Campaign, the RSPB together with Birdlife International launched The Albatross Task Force, made up of a team of dedicated international experts who work side-by-side with fishing crews around the world, showing them simple measures they can take to help save seabirds. They are also working closely with governments, encouraging them to better regulate the industry to protect endangered albatrosses and other seabirds from fishing activities.
The goal of the Albatross Task Force is to educate fishing vessel operators and the fishermen aboard these vessels of the conservation issues resulting from seabird bycatch, inform them of the different mitigating measures available to limit bycatch, and to help them choose the most appropriate solution to use during their fishing activities.
The initiative has been a resounding success, with bycatch of albatrosses and other seabirds at seven of the world’s top seabird bycatch hotspots being reduced significantly.
How you can help
Friend of the Sea encourages seafood companies who financially benefit from fisheries that are putting albatrosses and other seabirds at risk of extinction to engage at implementing albatross bycatch reduction methods.
Longlines and trawlers are mostly catching tuna, swordfish, cod, hake, shrimps and herrings. Check with your seafood provider and at restaurants if those species are caught by Friend of the Sea certified fleets.
You can support the Save the Albatross campaign by signing the Change.org petition, which will help Friend of the Sea convince seafood and fishing companies to make a change benefit both the fishing industry and conservation.
If we all work together, we can save the magnificent albatross from extinction.