Many conservationists have been talking about how commercial fishing practices have all but destroyed many of the most significant fish populations on the planet, like the snapper and giant bluefin tuna, however not as much attention has been drawn to the way outdated fishing techniques are negatively impacting other marine species, like sea birds.
According to a recently formed coalition of conservation organizations that includes Britain’s own Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, seabirds like the Albatross and and petrel are frequently becoming the innocent victims of a fishing practice known as long lining, or trawling.
Although they are slightly different in execution, both long lining and trawling involve dragging lines and/or nets behind fishing boats for long distances. Because these lines carry fish bait and bits of discarded fish flesh on the boat decks, they act as magnets for seabirds who treat them like their at-sea buffet.
Fishing boats that are deploying long lines of baited hooks can often spell the end for these seabirds, which swoop down to obtain the tasty morsel, only to become ensnared on the hook and plunged under the water where they soon drown.
According to the RSPB, fisheries, including those using long-lining and trawling, are believed to kill 100,000 albatrosses annually. Eighteen of the world’s 22 species of albatross are facing extinction, and bycatch in fisheries is the most significant threat to the family worldwide.
It’s important to point out that these birds aren’t being intentionally killed, although their dwindling numbers are the result of a reluctantance on the part of fisheries to make changes to keep the birds from swarming to the bait.
In a recent appearance on the public radio program, Living on Earth, Grahame Madge of the RSPB pointed to an inexpensive boat modification that could help save the birds without affecting the fishing process.
“What we want the tuna fisheries to do is to adopt more mitigation measures. So, for example, if fishing vessels can pay out streamer lines from the back of their vessels that will enable them to build effectively two curtains down either side of the long line, which deters albatrosses and other seabirds from getting too close to that killing zone right at the back of the boat,” said Madge.
These streamer lines would operate much like a scarecrow in a cornfield, creating a fluttering distraction that would prevent albatrosses and other birds from getting too close to the bait lines.
Although many seabirds are affected by commercial fishing practices, the albatross has emerged as the poster child for the RSPB and its coalition of supporters. In his interview with LOE, Madge goes on to explain why:
“There’s something about an albatross that touches you, even if you’ve not seen one and it’s that that we’ve been tapping into really, this public consciousness toward albatrosses. And when you think that albatrosses can live until they’re 60, be [breeding] until the age of 50, but lay one egg every two years, when you start losing birds from that population, then that’s really bad news for the individual, but also for the species, itself. The Wandering albatross certainly has the largest wingspan of any bird and it’s a bird that is supremely adapted to its environment. When you see these magnificent creatures in their environment, it makes you realize what a wonderful force evolution is and how terrible it would be if these birds weren’t sail the winds any longer.”
Image credit: www.britishecologicalsociety.org