Seabirds such as albatrosses killed by longline fishing

Albatrosses (Image: photolibrary.com) Albatrosses will dive to reach food just under the surface

Up to 300,000 seabirds are killed every year by longline fisheries, according to a study.

This new global estimate of seabird bycatch was carried out by scientists from the RSPB and Birdlife International.

Commercial longlines can be hundreds of kilometres long, with more than 1,000 bait hooks along the line.

  • Albatrosses are extremely efficient flyers, using up more energy when landing and taking off than they do while in the air
  • The tubenoses is an order of seabirds which contains the albatrosses and various families of petrels. They get their name from their prominent nostrils

Seabirds, including endangered albatrosses, often dive for the bait and become ensnared by the hooks.

Dr Orea Anderson from the RSPB, who led the study, told BBC Nature that the study took four years to complete.

She and her colleagues compiled all the available data on seabird bycatch from fisheries throughout the world.

This pinpointed some fishing fleets that were particularly problematic.

One Spanish longline fleet on the Gran Sol grounds off the coast of Ireland, for example, could be responsible for killing about 50,000 birds annually, according to the review.

The Japanese tuna fleet was also highlighted; it is estimated to have claimed 20,000 birds each year and to have had the largest impact on albatrosses.

Seabird bycatch from a longline fishery in Brazil (Image: Fabiano Peppes) Longline fisheries claim an estimated 300,000 seabirds annually
Simple solution

The numbers of seabird deaths are unsustainable at the moment," said Dr Anderson.

"All we need to do to reduce that mortality is use bird scarers where the lines enter the water," she said.

"Or weight lines so the bait hooks are beyond the reach of a seabird's dive."

The RSPB has called on regulators to make the use of these methods mandatory for longline fisheries.

Dr Cleo Small, senior policy officer for the Global Seabird Programme and co-author of the review, commented: "With the UK's Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic holding a third of the world's breeding albatrosses, the UK has a major responsibility to ensure seabird-friendly fisheries.

Albatross caught by a longline fishery (Image: Fabiano Peppes) Albatrosses often dive for bait on the line and become ensnared on the hooks

"The findings of this review (also) place a heavy onus on the forthcoming EU Plan of Action for Seabirds to deliver a robust set of remedial measures capable of reducing the impact of longline and other fisheries on seabird populations in EU waters and beyond."

Dr Andy Clements, director of the British Trust for Ornithology commented: "The importance of the UK Overseas Territories, holding such a significant proportion of the world's breeding albatrosses, means we have a special responsibility to take notice of these scientific findings, and to seek funds for further research work to support global seabird conservation."

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