Indian Ocean vital for survival of albatrosses

Cleo Small of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reports

The Southern Indian Ocean is one of the most special areas of the world for albatrosses, the remarkable and graceful flying giants of the oceans. The Indian Ocean is also crucial for the survival of albatrosses. There are 21 species in all, and 19 of them are threatened with extinction. The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) has a very important role to play in their protection.

The greatest threat to many albatross species is being caught and killed as bycatch in longline

Wandering Albatross © RSPB

fisheries. They die on longlines when they dive on the baited hooks, get caught, dragged underwater and drowned. There are simple and inexpensive ways of preventing these wasteful and unneccessary deaths. It is in nobody’s interests that albatrosses should die – and it is certainly not in the interests of fishermen to lose their bait in this way. Measures can be as simple as ‘bird scarer lines’ - streamers that are towed behind fishing vessels to scare the birds away.

In the Southern Ocean, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) requires fishing boats to use a range of measures to reduce bycatch, and has reduced the number of albatrosses killed by an incredible 99%-plus.

However, the IOTC does not yet have requirements in place, and birds remain unprotected. This is something that BirdLife International is seeking to assist the IOTC to change. The IOTC is holding its first Bycatch Working Group meeting in July 2005, and BirdLife will be presenting material there to start the process of ensuring protection of albatrosses. This information will help to contribute to better management of fisheries overall, assisting better protection for marine ecosystems, something that will provide long-term benefits for local fishing communities.

As BirdLife puts it: ‘CCAMLR has shown what can be achieved by RFMOs. If other fisheries’ organisations did the same, threats to albatrosses and other marine life would be significantly reduced. The IOTC is key to saving populations of albatrosses, turtles and sharks, and to ensuring sound stewardship of the Indian Ocean for future generations.’

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