The status of the world’s seabirds has deteriorated rapidly over recent decades and several species and many populations are now threatened with extinction. Last information from BirdLife International’s data and assessment for the IUCN Red List reveals that seabirds are now more threatened than any other group of birds. Of the 346 seabird species, 97 (28%) are globally threatened and nearly half of all seabird species are known or suspected to be experiencing population declines. The albatross family is especially imperiled with 15 of the 22 species currently threatened with extinction. One of the main factors that contribute to declining seabird populations is bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries.
The good news is that simple, practical measures exist that rapidly reduce seabird mortality once they are included in daily fishing operations. One of the most widely demonstrated measures for trawl fisheries is the bird-scaring line, which is deployed on either side of the vessel to create a physical barrier between the birds and the trawl cables that tow fishing nets. By preventing birds from colliding with the cables, bird-scaring lines keep birds from being struck and dragged under water.The Albatross Task Force in Argentina, hosted by the local BirdLife partner Aves Argentinas has been working in conjunction with several government entities; the Subsecretaría de Pesca de la Nación, the Subsecretaría de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable, the Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Pesquero and the Universidad de Mar del Plata plus non-governmental organisation Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina.
The output of this collaboration has been a resolution, approved by the Federal Fisheries Council to initiate a six month programme to test the operational and logistical challenges in implementing bird-scaring lines on the vessels of the industrial freezer trawl fleet. The resolution, proposed by the Technical Advisory Committee of the National Plan of Action for seabirds, received unanimous approval with the intention to collaborate with the captains and crew to refine bird-scaring line designs that will minimise any operational concerns for the crew before the measures become obligatory in the fishery.
According to observations conducted by the Albatross Task Force, the mortality rate of black-browed albatross in the fishery is as high as 0.237 birds per hour trawled, with a total annual trawl effort of 58,000 hours. The use of bird-scaring lines has been shown to practically eliminate this mortality in the fishery.
In Argentina the National Plan of Action to reduce seabird bycatch calls for the use of mitigation measures for trawl fisheries and the implementation of measures that have been tested and proven. The Albatross Task Force in Argentina, with support from BirdLife International and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, has the main objective of evaluating seabird mortality in different fleets and developing mitigation measures to reduce levels of seabird bycatch.
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