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Conservation measures keep albatrosses off the hook

A Wandering Albatross, a bird of conservation concern, swims near Kaikoura, New Zealand, March 2014.
Wandering Albatross at Kaikoura, New Zealand, March 2014, by Cara Barnhill.

Today, on World Oceans Day, an international team of experts that works to prevent the unintentional killing of seabirds on fishing lines is celebrating ten years of conservation success.

Albatrosses are among the largest flying birds. They have the greatest wingspans of any bird in the world, reaching up to an incredible 3.5 meters (over 11 feet), and they spend most of their lives at sea, coming to land only to breed.

A Black-browed Albatross, a bird of conservation concern, stands on rocks.
Black-browed Albatross.

Albatrosses are also one of the most threatened groups of birds in the world. Every year, an estimated 100,000 are killed on longline fishing hooks and trawl cables. The mortality is the main driver of declines in albatross populations. Fifteen of the 22 albatross species are threatened with extinction.

Seabird conservation

In 2006, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and BirdLife International launched a task force to reduce the number of albatross and petrel deaths, and ultimately to improve the conservation status of threatened seabirds. The group introduced simple and effective mitigation measures, including using bird-scaring lines, setting baited hooks under the cover of darkness, and weighting hook lines to help them sink rapidly out of reach of foraging birds.

A new report shows that the task force has been extremely successful. Albatross bycatch has been reduced by 99 percent in the South African hake-trawl fishery. Moreover, experimental trials demonstrate at least 85-percent reductions in seabird bycatch are possible in six other fisheries where regulations require bird-safe methods.


The task force works through BirdLife International partners and local nongovernmental organizations in the Southern Hemisphere. It has spent over 5,000 days at sea, working side by side with the fishing industry to demonstrate how to keep seabirds off the hook. Task-force recommendations are based on rigorous scientific testing.

Thanks to its work, seven out of the ten fisheries originally identified as seabird-bycatch hotspots have now adopted regulations to protect seabirds.

“BirdLife has proven this works with a decade of research, refining solutions and working with fishermen,” says Patricia Zurita, CEO at Birdlife International. “Now it is time to expand this model worldwide, so we can ensure no bird is needlessly caught by fisheries ever again.”


See photos of albatrosses.

Read about three illustrated guides to offshore sea life and flyingfish.

Learn more about RSPB’s efforts to save albatrosses.

More about World Oceans Day.



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