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Commission Rules on By-catch

…Tuna fishery throws albatrosses a lifeline from longline

The world’s most endangered albatross, the Amsterdam Island albatross, and other species of threatened seabird have been thrown a lifeline this week with the requirement that longline vessels fishing for tuna and swordfish in the southern Indian Ocean will have to comply with new regulations to avoid large numbers of seabirds being killed.

A resolution from the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) this week requires all longline fishing vessels, fishing south of 30° South, to adopt a combination of at least two measures to reduce the bycatch of seabirds, which is pushing the world’s 22 species of albatross closer toward extinction.

The resolution was announced at an IOTC meeting in Muscat, Oman. The resolution, which was announced at an IOTC meeting in Muscat, Oman, takes into account the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) International Plan of Action for Reducing the Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries (IPOA-Seabirds).The RSPB is the UK partner of BirdLife International. Dr Cleo Small, of the BirdLife Global Seabird Programme, is based at the RSPB’s UK headquarters and she has been attending this week’s meeting. Speaking from Oman, she said: “This measure is a highly positive step for the conservation of these very vulnerable species. Longline fishing is a major threat affecting all albatross populations and, although these measures aren’t perfect, the future of albatrosses and other threatened seabirds of the southern Indian Ocean should be a little more secure.”

Birds that will benefit include the Amsterdam albatross, whose entire global population has been reduced to 130 birds, all on Amsterdam island in the southern Indian Ocean. Other beneficiaries include the shy albatross, from Australia, and the black-browed and wandering albatrosses, which have important nesting populations on South Georgia - a UK Overseas Territory.Dr Small added: “The Commission noted the very important role that was played by the BirdLife International albatross and petrel-tracking database, which has assembled data from remote satellite-tracking and other methods around the world to highlight the areas in which seabirds are at risk of being killed by fisheries.”

Measures include requiring boats to set their hooks at night when birds are less active, using a bird streamer (tori) line to keep birds away from the hooks, adding weight to lines to make them sink more quickly out of reach of the albatrosses, and dyeing bait blue to make it less visible. The fisheries are given flexibility to choose which two measures from this list are most suitable to their fishery. The meeting agreed technical specifications for use of these measures.

The southern Indian Ocean is an albatross and threatened seabird hotspot. Once bycatch mitigation requirements have been put in place getting them actually practicised by the fishermen at sea is the next step.

The RSPB and BirdLife have funded the Albatross Task Force to employ staff to show fishermen first hand how to use the mitigation measures. They have recruited 14 ATF members who are working to protect albatrosses feeding in the waters of six countries - Brazil, Chile, South Africa, Namibia, Uruguay and Argentina.

4th July 2014