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New research helps save albatrosses from extinction - 4 September 2008

A new report released today (21 August) by WWF, the conservation organisation, reveals important new information about the threat to seabirds from commercial fishing operations and where they're most at risk.

The report, titled "Understanding and mitigating vulnerable bycatch in southern African trawl and longline fisheries," underscores the need for international cooperation on preventing seabird deaths. It also reinforces the need for fishermen to implement the mandatory and readily available measures that help prevent birds from becoming entangled in fishing gear.

Dr Samantha Petersen, manager of the WWF Responsible Fisheries Programme, says the report is an important step towards improving the understanding of the interaction of seabirds and fishing vessels in southern African waters.

"Albatrosses and petrels are amongst the most endangered group of animals on the planet. This is primarily the result of becoming entangled or hooked in fishing gear and drowning.

"This report substantially improves our understanding of the circumstances under which seabirds are killed and for the first time reports on experiments conducted in South African waters to develop techniques to reduce seabird bycatch under local conditions," says Dr Petersen.

She explains: "These findings help accurately identify management measures to help reduce the wasteful killing of these magnificent birds while not unnecessarily disrupting fishing activities or impacting other vulnerable marine life like turtles and sharks".

"While this information is valuable, it's crucial that it translates into compliance with mitigation measures on the part of fishing operations." .

She explains that so-called bird-scaring lines for instance have proved to be simple yet effective way of preventing seabirds from being snagged during longline fishing. Similar measures have helped limit the impact of other fishing techniques.

She notes that the report for the first time describes the movements of two of the most common albatross species, Black-browed and White-capped Albatrosses, in South African waters and provides insights into how these birds are using our waters and how much they are dependent on so-called fisheries discards. "This has management implications for seabirds because of the dramatic changes in marine ecosystems as a result of past fishing activities. The possibility exists that management actions could place a further burden on these species.

"Albatrosses and petrels undertake amazing journeys where many species frequently circumnavigate the globe crossing many national and international jurisdictions as well as coming across numerous fishing fleets from various nations.

"The health of our oceans, can in many ways, be judged by the health of our seabirds. Only together can we have any hope of saving these birds from extinction and protect our only global commons, our oceans" says Dr Petersen.

This report also informed the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) working parties which met in Hermanus this week. The 12 countries signatory to this convention, observers and NGOs, including WWF, have started discussions on how nations can collaborate on the international problem.

Visit the WWF website for more conservation news.