SA trawl fishing kills thousands of sea birds a year

Posted by Laura Grant on August 18, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Scientists who monitored catches on 14 different vessels trawling for hake in the Benguela Current, off South Africa’s west coast, estimate that about 18,000 seabirds may be killed a year in this fishery alone, reports Birdlife International.

The majority of bird deaths were a result of collisions with wires – known as warp lines – leading from the stern of the vessels. “Most mortality relates to the dumping of fishing waste behind the boat. This attracts seabirds which can either hit the warp lines or become entangled in the nets,” said Dr John Croxall, chairman of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme

The Benguela current is one of the main hotspots for seabirds in the Southern Hemisphere, says Birdlife. “We believe the seabird deaths the scientists recorded might be just the tip of the iceberg”, said Croxall.

Potential solutions to reduce seabird deaths from trawling already exist, such as improving waste management and using devices that protect warp cables from bird strikes. Birdlife International suggests that these measures should be made a requirement for trawlers and that more research should be done to improve them.

The species killed during the study, which was published in the journal Animal Conservation, included Cape Gannet (listed as vulnerable), White-chinned Petrel (also vulnerable), Black-browed albatross (endangered) and Shy Albatross (near threatened). The latter three visit the Benguela Current region from nesting islands dotted around the Southern Ocean, says Birdlife.

“The impact of this one local fishery has very widespread geographical repercussions”, warned Dr Croxall. “Potential mortality at this scale for the albatrosses is unsustainable”.

Trawl fishing is just one of the manmade problems faced by seabirds. Longline fishing vessels kill 300,000 seabirds on their hooks every year globally, 100,000 of them are albatrosses, says Save the Albatross. Nineteen of the 22 species of albatross are globally threatened with extinction. Albatrosses are dying at a rate of around one every five minutes, the conservation group says.

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