Save the Albatross

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The Problem

Albatrosses are iconic seabirds that spend most of their life at sea, coming ashore primarily to breed. These long-lived ocean wanderers however face many human induced threats:

However, the largest threat that albatrosses face is getting caught in longline and trawlers fishing gear.

Longline fishing vessels set lines that can extend for over one hundred kilometers. Each line contains tens of thousands of baited hooks that float on the surface for a while before sinking deeper under the water, out of an albatross’s reach. Being the opportunistic scavengers they are, albatrosses gather around fishing vessels and quickly pounce on the bait before it sinks. Once an albatross grabs the bait, the bird is caught on the hook and drowns as the lines sink below the water.

Fishing trawlers also pose a risk. Fishing crews aboard trawlers process their catch onboard so that they can catch more fish. The unwanted offal (heads and innards) are discarded overboard, attracting albatrosses who smell a free lunch from miles away. During the feeding frenzy that ensues, albatrosses can become entangled in fishing nets or they can collide with the cables used to drag the trawl nets through the water and back onboard, ending up getting caught up in the nets and dragged through the water along with the fish in the haul.

Save the Albatross

Environmental Consequences

Approximately 160,000 to 320,000 albatrosses are killed by fishing gear every year. Considering the multiple threats faced by albatrosses, coinciding with the fact that some albatross species only breed once every two years, laying just a single egg at each breeding attempt, the mortality rate is higher than the rate at which they are producing offspring. Evidently, this is unsustainable and is causing the population of many albatross species to decline rapidly, and subsequently, we are in grave danger of losing these iconic seabirds. As a result of this continued bycatch, amongst other hazards, 17 of the world’s 22 albatross species are currently threatened with extinction – nine of which are listed as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Redlist of Threatenes Species.

Possible Solutions

There are several cheap, yet effective solutions that can be implemented to address the problem of seabird bycatch resulting from longlining and trawling fishing practices, including:

WSO's Activities and Initiatives

The World Sustainability Organization’s Friend of the Sea project provides financial support for the Save the Albatross campaign, led by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). In 2006, as part of the Save the Albatross Campaign, the RSPB together with Birdlife International launched The Albatross Task Force, made up of a team of dedicated international experts who work side-by-side with fishing crews around the world, showing them simple measures they can take to help save seabirds. They are also working closely with governments, encouraging them to better regulate the industry to protect endangered albatrosses and other seabirds from fishing activities.

The goal of the Albatross Task Force is to educate fishing vessel operators and the fishermen aboard these vessels about the conservation issues resulting from seabird bycatch, informing them of the different mitigating measures available to limit bycatch, and to help them choose the most appropriate, sustainable practice for their fishing activities.

The initiative have had resounding success, with bycatch of albatrosses and other seabirds at seven of the world’s top seabird bycatch hotspots being reduced significantly.

How you can help save the Albatros

Friend of the Sea encourages seafood companies who financially benefit from fisheries that are putting albatrosses and other seabirds at risk of extinction to engage at implementing albatross bycatch reduction methods.

Longlines and trawlers are mostly catching tuna, swordfish, cod, hake, shrimps and herrings. Check with your seafood provider and at restaurants if those species are caught by Friend of the Sea certified fleets.

You can support the Save the Albatross campaign by signing the petition, which will help Friend of the Sea convince seafood and fishing companies to make a change benefit both the fishing industry and conservation.

If we all work together, we can save the magnificent albatross from extinction.

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