Page last updated at 09:21 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Lifeline for endangered albatross

Albatross and other birds can get caught in fishing lines and drown

The outlook for endangered seabirds looks better thanks to a scheme that reduces the numbers accidentally killed by the fishing industry.

Three-quarters of albatross species are at risk of extinction, largely due to the way long lines are deployed to catch fish such as tuna.

The animals are attracted to the baited lines and can become entangled and pulled underwater to their deaths.

A South African initiative shows how the lines can be made safer.

The Albatross Task Force (ATF) project was launched in 2006 and last year it cut the number of birds killed in South African fisheries by 85%.


The UK Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) now hopes the scheme could be expanded to other countries.

One of the organisers Meidad Goren said: "Fishermen now understand that in order to continue fishing they must avoid killing seabirds, and are very cooperative."

Permit conditions

The task force - which is a joint effort by the RSPB and Birdlife International - placed specialist instructors on fishing boats to show fishermen how to prevent birds becoming entangled.

Changing entrenched attitudes and practices is a slow process
Dr Ross Wanless
Birdlife International

The main technique involves attaching brightly coloured streamers known as tori lines to the back of vessels. These flap in the wind and scare the birds away from the baited lines.

Fishermen are also encouraged to set their lines at night, when bird activity is limited, and to find new ways to weigh the lines down more effectively so that bait sinks out of reach more quickly.

Crews have an added incentive to comply because since last year the conditions for obtaining a fishing permit stipulate that no more than 25 birds may be caught as "by-catch" during trips.

Dr Ross Wanless, coordinator of the Birdlife programme in Africa, said: "We have to adopt an ecosystem approach to fisheries to minimise the impacts of fishing on non-target species, including seabirds.

"Changing entrenched attitudes and practices is a slow process, but the ATF has shown that by working with government and industry, change is possible."

The Prince of Wales, who is a passionate conservationist, will hear about the albatross scheme first hand on Monday during a reception at Clarence House.

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