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South Atlantic more seabird-friendly

…improving fishing methods

BirdLife International and WWF South Africa recently achieved a major conservation success by improving the methods used by commercial fishermen in the south-east Atlantic Ocean to avoid killing seabirds. Seabirds, particularly albatrosses, are becoming threatened and at a faster rate than all other groups of birds. By far the biggest threat faced is death on longline fishing hooks.

"A single demersal [seabed] vessel may use a line extending for 10 km, from which can hang as many as 20,000 hooks", said Dr Ross Wanless - Southern Africa Coordinator for BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme. "Globally we estimate that around 300,000 seabirds grab baited-hooks and drown each year".

The southeast Atlantic Ocean is a particularly important area where large numbers of seabirds and commercial fisheries overlap; fisheries which are managed by The South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO). SEAFO covers a vital area for seabirds. Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos and Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys are just two of the thirteen Globally Threatened seabird species found within SEAFO's region.Working alongside WWF South Africa, BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme recently reviewed SEAFO's seabird conservation measures, and presented a number of improvements to result in fewer birds being killed. "Using BirdLife's Seabird Mitigation Fact-sheets, we suggested ways in which SEAFO's conservation measures could meet current best practice", said Ross.

BirdLife's freely-available Seabird Mitigation Fact-sheets describe a range of potential mitigation measures to reduce seabird bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries. The sheets assess the effectiveness of each measure, highlight their limitations and strengths, and make best practice recommendations for their effective adoption. They are designed to help decision-makers choose the most appropriate measures for their longline and trawl fisheries.

SEAFO subsequently accepted the BirdLife / WWF recommendations, and have now incorporated them into their new seabird conservation measures. "We were delighted", noted Ross. "Thousands of seabirds could be saved each year as a result of this decision. SEAFO now sets the gold standard for other regional fisheries management organisations around the world to follow".

4th July 2014