Posted on the 16th April 2010

BirdLife International and WWF-South Africa recently achieved a major conservation success by improving the methods used by commercial fishermen in the south-east Atlantic Ocean to avoid killing seabirds.

Cape Town, 16 April – Seabirds, particularly albatrosses, are becoming threatened and at a faster rate than all other groups of birds. By far the biggest threat faced is death on longline fishing hooks.

“A single vessel may use a line extending for 10 km, from which can hang as many as 20,000 hooks”, said Dr Ross Wanless - Southern Africa Coordinator for BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme. “Globally we estimate that around 300,000 seabirds grab baitedhooks and drown each year”.

The south-east Atlantic Ocean is a particularly important area where large numbers of seabirds and commercial fisheries overlap; fisheries which are managed by The South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO).  SEAFO covers a vital area for seabirds. Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos) and Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys) are just two of the thirteen Globally Threatened seabird species found within SEAFO’s region.

Working alongside WWF-South Africa, BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme recently reviewed SEAFO’s seabird conservation measures, and presented a number of  improvements to result in fewer birds being killed. “Using BirdLife’s Seabird Mitigation Fact-sheets, we suggested ways in which SEAFO’s conservation measures could meet current best practice”, said Wanless.

BirdLife’s freely-available Seabird Mitigation Fact-sheets describe a range of potential mitigation measures to reduce seabird bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries. The sheets assess the effectiveness of each measure, highlight their limitations and strengths, and make best practice recommendations for their effective adoption. They are designed to help decision-makers choose the most appropriate measures for their longline and trawl fisheries.

SEAFO subsequently accepted the BirdLife/WWF-SA recommendations, and have now incorporated them into their new seabird conservation measures. “We were delighted”, noted Wanless. “Thousands of seabirds could be saved each year as a result of this decision. SEAFO now sets the gold standard for other regional fisheries management organisations around the world to follow”.

For further information, please contact: Dr Ross Wanless,, office +27 21 419 7347, m +27 73 6753267

Notes for the editor

1. The mission of BirdLife South Africa is to promote the enjoyment, conservation, study and understanding of wild birds and their habitats.

2. BirdLife South Africa contact details: Lewis House, 239 Barkston Drive, Blairgowrie,

P.O. Box 515, Randburg, Johannesburg, South Africa, Tel. +27-11-7891122, Fax.

+27-11-7895188, e-mail address:, website:

3. The Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

4. The Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos) breeds exclusively on Gough Island in the South Atlantic and is listed as Endangered by the IUCN. More than 75% of it’s time at sea is spent in areas with high longline fishing effort. It is estimated that each year 5% of the population is killed during longline fishing operations in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

5. Longline vessels targeting Patagonian toothfish set long lines with thousands of branched lines with hook attached. Seabirds, especially albatrosses and petrels, are attracted to the baited hooks. If they get hooked while scavenging baits, they get pulled under as the longline sinks to the fishing depth, and drown. BirdLife International estimates that each year 100,000 albatrosses alone are killed in this way. Although scientists and conservationists have been aware of the problem for 20 years, bodies like SEAFO have only recently begun to implement measures to address the incidental mortality.

6. The most widely used technique to avoid seabird bycatch is the tori or bird-scaring line, invented by a Japanese longline fishing skipper. Research from South Africa amongst other areas, shows that a suite of measures in combination, including tori lines, weighting lines so the bait sinks out of reach of seabirds quickly, and setting at night when most seabirds don’t forage, is the most effective at reducing seabird bycatch.


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