Of the 300,000 seabirds killed in longline and trawl fisheries each year, around 100,000 are albatross. This level of mortality is clearly not sustainable for these inspirational, but sadly imperilled seabirds, with 15 of the 22 species of albatross threatened with extinction.  

Birds are killed when they scavenge baited hooks, are dragged underwater and drown in longline fisheries; or while feeding on factory discards are struck by the cables that tow trawl nets, forced underwater and drown or suffer massive trauma in trawl fisheries.

Below: Seabird mortality caused by trawl (left) and longline (right) fisheries. Graphics Rachel Hudson

Simple solutions exist that rapidly reduce the impact of our industrial fisheries on all seabirds:

  • Using weights to sink baited hooks from the sea surface removes them from the reach of scavenging seabirds fast enough to prevent birds from becoming hooked.
  • Bird scaring lines create a physical barrier and visual deterrent when flown behind fishing vessels and very effectively keep seabirds away from longline hooks and trawl cables.
  • As most species are less active at night, setting lines during darkness reduces interactions. Using a combination of these three measures is considered best practice for longline fisheries.

Using good line weighting to sink baited hooks under the protection of a bird-scaring line at night is extremely unlikely to catch any birds. Flying bird scaring lines behind trawl vessels is enough to dramatically reduce seabird mortality.

The Albatross Task Force has been working with the longline and trawl fishing industry in southern Africa and South America to test and trial these measures over the past years. Our results indicate that the effect of using these measures correctly reduces seabird bycatch by over 95%, and can even eliminate bycatch.

Below: Setting starts in Uruguay as the sunsets, with a bird scaring line already deployed. Photo Martin Abreu

We are committed to continue demonstrating how these measures can best be incorporated into the daily fishing routine, on board fishing vessels side by side with the captains and crew of the vessels. Our objective is to help industry understand the issue of seabird bycatch and become proficient in the practical use of these mitigation measures in order to achieve wide-scale adoption of seabird conservation measures.  

An important and innovative new measure is being developed to provide a 'one-stop' alternative to the combination of three measures used in longline fisheries, which would potentially simplify policy and practice for industry. The Hook pod encapsulates the point of the hook, only releasing it beyond the dive depth of foraging birds. This week our South African Albatross Task Force instructor Bokamoso Lebepe is heading to sea on the FV Saxon to test the Hook pod in the pelagic longline fishery.

We already know that the Hook pod can be incorporated easily into the daily routine of the fishing operation and to date our data shows a high reduction in seabird bycatch once this measure is used. We are continuing monitoring to develop a large data set that will ensure robust science backs the credentials of any new measures that we support for introduction as best practice in fisheries.  

One of the key roles the Albatross Task Force performs, is creating a link between policy and grass roots action. By doing so the Task Force is supporting the correct implementation of best practice measures to reduce bycatch in critical sites for seabirds. 

Below: Bokamoso with the skipper of the FV Saxon in South Africa. Photo Bronwyn Maree