January 18, 2014
Helping Albatross Survival
I recently wrote about the way Albatross numbers have been decimated by certain types of fishing, particularly longline fishing. It is estimated that as many as three billion hooks are baited and used in longline fishing each and every year and that thousands of Albatrosses die as a result of being caught as they grab the bait. Trawling also takes a heavy toll as birds either are trapped in the nets or have collisions with the cables. Research in just one South African trawling fishery in 2006 found that 12,000 Albatrosses were killed in one year alone. There are many other threats to the survival of these and other seabirds. Ingestion of plastic is one huge problem and many of the breeding grounds of these magnificent birds are plagued by predators such as rats and cats. On Gough Island the endemic Tristan Albatross has struggled to survive as a result of introduced House Mice predating the young chicks. As the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says “The Albatross family is becoming threatened faster than any other family of birds.” Of the 22 recognized species, 17 are in danger of extinction. Sir David Attenborough, the British broadcaster and naturalist points out that these birds have survived life in the world’s wildest oceans for 50 million years – about 100 times as long as the human species but they may die out in the very near future as a result of man’s activities.
However, back in 2006 the Albatross Task Force was set up to monitor the decline in bird numbers and promote awareness of the problem. Members of the ATF are placed on board fishing vessels in the worst affected areas and encourage safer fishing methods right out at sea. Others work ashore, not only conducting extensive research but also working with fishery management bodies and the fishing industry itself to tackle the problem. The ATF is promoting the use of more heavily weighted longlines (known as Tori Lines) to reduce seabird bycatch in the industry. These work by dragging the baits underwater much more quickly so that seabirds cannot grab the baits before they sink. Study results into the use of Tori Lines are very encouraging. This is a simple, low cost, and effective method. Alongside the Tori Lines the fishing boats are encouraged to deploy streamers behind the ships to discourage birds. One study found that using these two techniques reduced attacks on the baited hooks by a factor of four. Fishing at night, when the birds are less active also reduced mortality rates and the same study found that using Tori Lines, streamers and night fishing together could result in zero mortality.
Other possible solutions have been tried with some success including the use of bait which has been died blue (a color which is less visible to birds) and the use of thawed not frozen bait as this will sink quicker. There have been experiments with using chutes to carry the lines away from the ship and deeper into the water away from bird attack.
It is early days yet for these methods to be assessed properly but so far the results look good and with increasing take-up of new fishing techniques the Albatross should start to recover.
Image Credit: Thinkstock