January 9, 2014
Intensive Fishing Threat To Albatross Survival
Everyone has a favourite bird and no, I don’t mean turkey at Christmas or finger-licking chicken. Whether it’s a backyard bird, an eagle soaring over a mountain, or a tiny hummingbird, birds can capture our imagination. The beauty of birds is that, unlike many other animals, they are all around us every day – even in the largest cities. But I am never going to see my own particular favourite landing in my own back yard or indeed anywhere near the UK where I live.
I love seabirds and above all the Albatross. To see an Albatross flying is truly exhilarating each and every time it happens. But, for most of us, to see them inevitably means a trip out to the wilder oceans where they roam. I have watched these huge birds glide and soar with incredible effortless grace in force ten gales and huge waves and what always amazes me is that they stay out at sea for up to two years in these waters without returning to land.
But all is not well in the world of the Albatross and several species are classified as endangered. In a previous article here I described how Albatrosses and other animals are being threatened by plastic pollution. But, like many other seabirds their numbers are also being decimated by certain types of fishing methods around the world, in particular longline fishing in which hundreds of baited hooks attached to lines that can be thousands of yards long are dropped in to the sea. Seabirds as well as marine mammals dive to take the bait and will inevitably drown slowly as the line sinks.
A report by the UK’s bird charity the RSPB and Birdlife International estimates that as many as 300,000 seabirds are killed each year as bycatch in longline fishing. Although the study took four years, the results are an estimate at best as, with so much illegal unreported fishing going on globally and with the difficulty of collating evidence from an operation so far out at sea, it is impossible to give accurate numbers. What is clear is that too many birds are dying unnecessarily and that some fishing operations in particular are taking a huge toll. The report picked out some specific operations as being especially problematic including the Japanese Tuna fishing fleet which it estimated kills around 20,000 birds a year.
A couple of years ago I saw the real scale of the tuna fishing industry for myself when the ship I was on docked at the Port of Manta in Ecuador. Moored nearby were several tuna fishing ships and the nearest one was only a few yards away. I was able to watch the crew unloading their massive catch. They were already working at 7am when I went on deck and still unloading at 5pm when we sailed. All day long they lifted huge nets full of frozen fish out of the hold. The nets were swung out and over the trucks waiting to take them down the road to the processing plants. The trucks were just open metal boxes and, to my mind, looked none too clean. I could not even guess at the weight or numbers of fish involved and that was just one boat among many and in just one port on a single day. I for one only ever buy pole-caught Tuna but the global demand for cheap supplies of this fish guarantees such factory fishing will continue. There are ways of mitigating the bycatch, however, and I will look at those and efforts to protect Albatrosses generally in a future post.
Image Credit: Thinkstock