SA has helped broker a new deal between the international fishing industry and conservationists that will significantly reduce the number of deaths of seabirds in fishing operations - especially albatrosses. This file picture shows a SA vessel that is already using seabird safety features.

John Yeld


SA HAS helped broker acceptance of a new technique of setting longline fishing lines that should help save tens of thousands of seabirds like endangered albatrosses from being hooked and drowned every year.

The move follows a meeting in Fremantle, Australia, last week between representatives of the Indian Ocean regional longline tuna industry and conservationists, with environmental group BirdLife International represented by Dr Ross Wanless, seabird division manager of BirdLife SA.

Afterwards, BirdLife announced that the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) had agreed to new measures that would result in significantly fewer albatross deaths.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of seabirds are killed unintentionally by longline fishing – the main reason 17 of the world’s 22 species of albatrosses are threatened with extinction.

This happens because tuna longliners deploy several thousand hooks, attached by branch-lines to a main line that can be more than 100km long.

Seabirds, especially albatrosses, become hooked when they take the bait, and are drowned as the line sinks.

Now the IOTC has agreed to align itself with strong mitigation measures to prevent bird mortalities adopted in November by its Atlantic Ocean counterpart.

Now all longline vessels must use two of three seabird bycatch mitigation measures: bird streamers or tori lines to scare birds away; and/or adding weights to the hooks to make them sink faster; and/or setting hooks at night when most birds are less active.