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Grisly cargo highlights global seabird crisis

Operation Ocean Task Force brings hope?

Korean longlining ships working in South African waters have unloaded a grisly cargo of dead seabirds, caught on their fishing hooks. At least 1,400 birds were hooked and drowned by just 10 fishing vessels in the past few months.

About 600 of the dead birds were albatrosses, largely Shy Albatrosses Thalassarche cauta and Black-browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophrys. Both of these species have suffered large recent population declines due to longlining. The remaining seabirds caught were White-chinned Petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis, another species at risk from longlining.Samantha Petersen, who runs the Birdlife-WWF Responsible Fisheries Programme, said: "This is a prime example of how longlining, which takes place world-wide, affects birds from around the globe. There is little requirement for longliners to take measures to reduce by-catch deaths on the high seas. We know what happened on these few ships but just how bad is the situation across the Southern Oceans where longlining vessels set 100km long lines every day?"

"These deaths are just a snapshot of what is happening across the Southern Oceans where millions of albatrosses and other seabirds live." Dr Ben Sullivan, BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme coordinator added.Hope for these seabirds is at hand in the form of Operation Ocean Task Force, operated and funded by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) as part of BirdLife's Save the Albatross Campaign. This aims to place experts on board fishing vessels to advise on methods which will reduce or stop incidental seabirds deaths.

Dr Ben Sullivan, BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme coordinator, commented: "These deaths are just a snapshot of what is happening across the Southern Oceans where millions of albatrosses and other seabirds live. Fishermen would rather catch fish than seabirds, and Operation Ocean Task Force offers a real opportunity to help them achieve this. Measures such as dying bait blue, setting lines at night and over the side of vessels are proven to reduce albatross deaths. Figures released recently in Hawaii last week show that albatross deaths from longlining fell by 95% as a result of using these simple techniques."

A new Save the Albatross website; http://www.savethealbatross.net, has been set up by BirdLife and the RSPB to tell people about albatrosses, the problem of longlining, and how this might be solved. An estimated 100,000 albatrosses are killed annually by longlining and 19 of the world’s 21 albatross species are globally threatened with extinction.

4th July 2014