An international task force of conservationists has shown that a remarkably simple method of deterring seabirds can save tens of thousands of accidental deaths.
TO recent study published on Namibia’s fishing industry found there was a 98% reduction in the death of albatrosses and other seabirds after laws were passed requiring fishermen to place colored streamers on the back of their boats, which deterred birds from stealing longline fishing nets.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and BirdLife International’s Albatross Task Force (ATF) have teamed up to help prevent endangered species like the albatross from becoming extinct due to bycatch, a fishing term that describes captured but not targeted animals.
Albatrosses are amazing birds, capable of traveling thousands of miles across the oceans without stopping, all while living to be sixty years old. Some species mate for life and return to the same often uninhabited islands dozens of times to raise their young. While many people imagine eagles and condors as the largest birds on Earth, both the largest bird title and the largest wingspan belong to the albatrosses, the great albatross, and the wandering albatross, respectively.
In Namibia, hake and longline trawl fisheries were found to kill a staggering 22,000 to 30,000 birds annually, including the endangered Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, due to the birds’ tendency to hook on the longline hooks, or colliding with the steel cables that drag the trawl nets.
“It’s hard to imagine that so many birds are killed in individual fisheries annually, especially for the fishermen themselves who see a lot of birds gathered behind their boats and maybe only bring in 1 or 2 in one set.” Rory Crawford, Catch Program Manager incidental to the RSPB, said Ecomagazine.
“But the cumulative effect for albatrosses in particular has been devastating: 15 of the 22 species are threatened with extinction. Fortunately, this is a problem for which there are simple and elegant solutions. “
These solutions are known as “streamer lines”. A colored pole mounted to the stern of a fishing trawler is strung along colored ropes, which either through movement or color scheme – scientists are not sure yet – act as the marine equivalent of a scarecrow.
As birds, which can include not only albatrosses but petrels as well, approach the fishing boat with the idea of catching an easy meal of fish or bait hanging from long fishing lines, the streamer lines make them take a second guess. .
“It’s part of the shine and then the movement, it’s been very, very effective around the world, other nations have reported successes besides Namibia,” Titus Shaanika, Namibian conservationist and study co-author, told the BBC.
The scarecrow lines were enforced by law, but according to Shaanika, it was not a huge challenge to reach out to the hake fishermen and convince them of the value of the birds, and why the simple solution was worth the small investment of time and energy.
These other successes include in South America and South Africa, a good thing since seabirds are one of the most vulnerable groups of animals.
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