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Ancient Mariner`s desperate plight

New research shows longline fishing pushing six albatross species further towards the brink of extinction…

Cape Town, South Africa ? New research revealed today shows that longline fishing is the prime factor responsible for greatly increasing the risk of extinction among at least five species of albatross. New research synthesised by BirdLife International, coinciding with an important workshop on seabirds in Cape Town, reveals a further alarming decrease in the populations of six of the 21 albatross species, including one species previously regarded as safe : All albatross species are now considered to face varying risks of extinction largely owing to longline fishing. This method kills more than 300,000 birds, including 100,000 albatrosses annually, either by drowning or dying of their injuries on baited hooks up to 80 miles (130 km) long.The six species whose threatened status has been significantly upgraded according to IUCN Red List categories and criteria are:

* Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross has been upgraded from Near Threatened in 2000 to Endangered in 2003 due to population declines recorded at long-term study colonies on Gough and Tristan da Cunha islands, indicating a 58% reduction over three generations (71 years). If threats do not abate, population models suggest that the species may need to be classified as Critically Endangered, the final category before becoming Extinct;
* Black-browed Albatross listed as Near Threatened in 2000 and Vulnerable in 2002, now becomes Endangered, with new census information from the Falkland Islands showing that the species is likely to be declining by more than 50% over 3 generations (65 years);
* Black-footed Albatross, listed as Vulnerable in 2000, now becomes Endangered, with new information and modelling from Hawaii revealing that declines are more serious than previously thought. The species is likely to be declining by more than 50% over 3 generations (56 years);
* Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, listed as Vulnerable in 2000, also now becomes Endangered with declines being more serious than previously thought, particularly at the stronghold population on Amsterdam Island in the French Southern Territories, and now at more than 50% over 3 generations (71 years); the disease avian cholera is strongly implicated in this decline.
* Laysan Albatross, listed as Least Concern in 2000, now becomes Vulnerable, with new information from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands showing declines of at least 30% over 3 generations (84 years);
* Sooty Albatross, listed as Vulnerable in 2000, now becomes Endangered (2003), with new information from breeding islands in the south Atlantic and Indian Oceans showing very serious declines of more than 75% over 3 generations (90 years).The most threatened species, the Amsterdam Albatross, already classified as Critically Endangered, is threatened by disease, with the population now reduced to some 20 pairs breeding annually and increasing chick mortality.Dr Michael Rands, BirdLife International`s Director and Chief Executive, says: The number of seabirds killed by longlines is increasing, as is the number of albatross species in the higher categories of threat due to their continued use. One such species, now seriously at risk, is the Laysan Albatross, which was previously considered abundant and safe. Longline fishing, especially by pirate vessels, is the single greatest threat to these seabirds.Since 2001, BirdLife`s Save the Albatross campaign has aimed to reduce the number of seabird deaths caused by the longlining fishing industry to a sustainable level, ensuring that relevant international agreements, such as the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), are implemented to benefit both birds and the legal fishing industry.BirdLife`s new research is particularly relevant to ACAP (under the Convention on Migratory Species or Bonn Convention) as the number of countries to ratify this new agreement will soon reach the necessary five for it to enter into force. The agreement requires signatory states to take specific measures to reduce seabird by-catch from longlining and to improve the conservation status of albatrosses and petrels. Australia, Ecuador, New Zealand and Spain have fully ratified, and either South Africa or the UK (unfortunately not covering the island territories where the albatrosses breed) will be the next to do so.At the same time, one of Britain`s most experienced sailors, John Ridgway, who rowed the North Atlantic with round-the-world yachtsman Chay Blyth in 1966, is fast approaching South Africa on his year-long expedition by yacht to report illegal fishing operations and campaign for stricter action against them. Ridgway`s expedition, with the support of BirdLife International`s Save the Albatros` campaign, will be highlighting the predicament of the Yellow-nosed Albatross in Cape Town, as well as demonstrating best-practice aboard a longline fishing boat.

Enquiries: Gareth Gardiner-Jones at BirdLife International in Cambridge, UK: tel. +44 (0)1223 279903; 07779 018 332 (mobile); gareth.gardiner@birdlife.org.uk

4th July 2014