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Albatross Conservation

One of the many crises facing the world today is the loss of thousands of seabirds in the longline fishery. Exact figures are unclear but the most recent published data estimates that many thousands of albatrosses and petrels are killed in the longline fishery in the southern hemisphere each year. This is a very serious situation, complicated by the fact that this devastation has been happening for a number of years now and continues to happen as more and more boats join the lucrative longline fishery.

Nearly one quater (85 species) of the world's seabird species breed in New Zealand - more than anywhere else on Earth. That makes New Zealand a very special place for seabirds. Albatross Encounter is currently working towards the conservation of pelagic seabirds in collaboration with Southern Seabird Solutions.

Southern Seabird Solutions Trust is an innovative alliance that supports and encourages fishers in the Southern Hemisphere to adopt responsible fishing practices. The Trust believes that fishers themselves hold the key to solving the issue of seabird injuries and deaths during fishing and presents projects that aim to educate, support and encourage them to take ownership of this problem and find solutions. To find out more, go to their website: Southern Seabird Solutions

What Is Longlining?

Longlining is a method of fishing whereby a long length of line, commonly known as the backbone, is payed out from a vessel with baited hooks attached at short intervals. The lines can vary in length but it is not unusual for them to be over 100 kilometres and carry many thousands of hooks. The line sinks to the ocean bottom where fish take the baits. This method of fishing can be likened to a 'blanket method' whereby the more hooks you put out, the greater the chance of catching a reasonable catch of fish.

Longlining is not a new method of fishing, in fact it has been around for centuries, but it is only recently that it has been deployed on such a large scale in the Southern Ocean.

The vessels deploying these longlines are large, as they have to withstand the rigours of working in the harsh environment of the Southern Ocean venturing as far south as Antarctica in search of lucrative species of fish such as the Patagonian Toothfish. As these vessels set their longlines, the lines with frozen baited hooks attached, stream out for a considerable distance behind the vessel, before the sinking below the sea surface. The baited hooks attract the albatross, shearwaters and petrels following the vessels and they dive on the baits and if successful, swallow the bait, become hooked and get dragged underwater with the line and drown.

The Species Impacted

New Zealand and its surrounding islands provide the breeding grounds for the greatest number of albatrosses and petrels anywhere in the world. Forty-seven albatross and petrel species breed in New Zealand; twenty of these are endemic (breed exclusively on islands of New Zealand).

The future for the albatross, petrels and shearwaters that ply the southern ocean and follow fishing vessels is looking grim with 22 seabird species, including 17 species of albatross, now listed as threatened.

Action To Be taken

There is now an international campaign to reduce the level of albatross and petrel deaths. The campaign is headed by an alliance of more than 100 countries and is spearheaded by the British-based Birdlife International.

In New Zealand there is pressure on the Government to implement stronger measures to reduce seabird deaths. Forty percent of albatross species are native to New Zealand, as are a large proportion of petrel species. Seabird numbers are declining around the world and some albatross species could be extinct within ten years, having already declined by a massive 90% of what they were 60 years ago.

Mitigation Measures

There are an estimated 300,000 seabirds drowned on longlines every year worldwide and this is proving a serious threat to several species which could face extinction if nothing is done. There is a desperate need to motivate the fishing industry world wide, into researching methods of longline fishing that eliminates the deaths of seabirds in the longline industry. It is pleasing to note that the New Zealand fishing industry is acting very responsibly and has successfully reduced the mortality rate of albatross to a very low rate. However it is critical that a world initiative be embraced and investment be initiated to support the development of mitigation techniques and measures that are appropriate and applicable globally.

Below is an example of a mitigation method developed by New Zealand inventor and fisher, Dave Kellian. Dave has spent the past eight or nine years developing a machine that can set baited hooks 10 metres underwater, which means birds do not see the baits and therefore the risk of catching birds is negated.

Underwater bait-setting device