Working for birds in Africa

Indian ocean seabirds get thrown a lifeline

Date posted: 
Saturday, June 14, 2008

The 12th meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) this week (June 7-11 ) in Muscat, Oman has struck a major step forward for seabird conservation by adopting a measure to reduce the bycatch of vulnerable albatross and petrel species. All longline vessels fishing for tuna and swordfish in the southern Indian Ocean (south of 30°S) will be required to use a combination of at least two measures to reduce seabird bycatch.

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 seabird proposal was led by Australia and the EC, and got support from Japan and Korea. BirdLife and the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) were present at the meeting as observers and were able to provide input and expert advice.

“This measure is a highly positive step for the conservation of these very vulnerable species. The measure isn’t perfect, and will need improvement as more data become available. In addition, to be effective, systems will need to be set up to monitor and enforce the measure. However, these future needs were recognised by parties, and the measure is a great achievement”, said Dr Cleo Small, BirdLife Global Seabird Programme, who has been working with IOTC on this issue since 2005.

Birds that will benefit include Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans, the Critically Endangered Amsterdam Albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis (only 17 pairs remaining), Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta from Australia, and also Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys from South Georgia (a UK Overseas Territory),  which visit the rich feeding grounds off coast of South Africa in the non-breeding season.

The IOTC meeting 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.

Seabird bycatch data from South Africa have been instrumental in highlighting the problem occurring in the Indian Ocean tuna and swordfish fisheries, and BirdLife International’s Albatross Task Force is playing a key role in this.

Of the world’s five tuna commissions, four now have requirements for use of mitigation measures. The fifth (tuna commission in East Pacific), will consider a seabird measure at its meeting later this month (23-27 June) in Panama City.

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