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ICCAT Inaction

…eaves albatross conservation dead in the water

After a 3-year seabird risk assessment that found tuna and swordfish longline fishing has significant impacts on Atlantic seabird populations, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) failed to act at a recent meeting in Recife, Brazil.

“Albatrosses and petrel populations in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea are undergoing some of the most severe decreases anywhere in the world”, said Dr Cleo Small - Senior Policy Officer for the BirdLife Global Seabird Programme, based at the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK).

More than 40 fishing nations are members of ICCAT, and they gathered recently in Recife, Brazil for the annual meeting of the commission. Collectively they control longline fishing effort in the Atlantic Ocean that is conducted on a massive scale.

“In Recife we recommended that fishers use a few simple, cheap but effective measures to reduce the rate at which seabirds get caught and drown”, added Dr Small. “However, ICCAT refused to endorse our recommendation which is a big blow for Globally Threatened seabirds”.Each year hundreds of millions of longline hooks are set in the Atlantic. The impact of longline fishing on albatrosses and other seabirds has been a source of concern for scientists and conservationists for decades. Globally, 18 of 22 albatross species are threatened with extinction, and longline fishing is known to be the leading cause of decreases for many species.

ICCAT has recently completed a three year assessment of the impacts of controlled longline fishing on seabirds, concluding that there was an impact and it needed to be addressed.

During the Commission meeting, proposals were put forward that would reduce the number of seabirds being killed. Japan was one of the countries that supported action, but a major stumbling block was the insistence from Japan to include mitigation measures for which no scientific information exists to indicate whether they work to protect seabirds or not.

Other countries which have already made great efforts to reduce their seabird bycatch problem could not accept such unproven measures, which would disregard the advice by ICCAT’s scientists, and could result in no reduction in impact on seabirds.Andrew Carroll from DEFRA's Sea Fish Conservation Division who attended the meeting on behalf of the UK Overseas Territories said: “To put it politely, I am immensely disappointed and frustrated that ICCAT has failed to make progress”. The UK Overseas Territories are home to around one third of the total breeding pairs of albatrosses. The declines of some of these populations are among the fastest in the world.

“Many parties worked hard to take effective action to reduce the bycatch of these declining species, but ICCAT is plagued by the necessity to gain consensus of all parties, and the work of many can be blocked by a very few”, said Dr Ross Wanless, Africa Coordinator for BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme and the head of BirdLife South Africa’s (BirdLife Partner) Seabird Division. “This is a major problem not only for tuna populations but also associated species such as seabirds, sharks and sea turtles”.BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme are tackling seabirds deaths around the world by working at the regional, national and international levels to influence the development and adoption of agreements and measures to reduce seabird bycatch.

On the ground we have established the Albatross Task Force, whose members spend weeks at a time onboard fishing vessels, braving some of the harshest conditions on earth, to help save the albatross from extinction. “We’re doing some great work, and urgently need to reach out to more fisheries and the crews of fishing vessels to prevent these majestic birds being killed from indiscriminate longline fishing”, said Oli Yates – ATF Coordinator.

“By donating to BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force, you will be helping fund our global campaign to save the albatross - helping pay for tori lines, up to the minute data recording equipment and sea safety gear such as water-proof suits, life vests and sea boots that will keep the men and women of the Task Force safe and able to do their job”, appealed Oli Yates. Please click here to donate.

4th July 2014