VENT Supports ABC/Birdlife International's Campaign to Save Albatross and Other Seabirds May 24, 2006

From American Bird Conservancy publications:

"The large graceful albatross is perhaps the most venerated of seabirds. The inspiration behind Samuel Taylor Coleridge's classic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, albatrosses have some of the longest wingspans of any birds, and spend much of their lives flying thousands of miles over the open ocean in search of food. However, with demand for large ocean fish at an all-time high, hundreds of thousands of albatrosses and other seabirds are being killed each year by the fleets of longline fishing vessels which crisscross the world's oceans. The longliners set lines up to 60 miles long and may use up to 30,000 baited hooks on each set to catch tuna, swordfish, cod, halibut, Patagonian toothfish, and other fish. While the longlines are being set behind the fishing boats, albatrosses and other seabirds grab the bait and become impaled on the barbed hooks, either caught by their bills, or hooked into their bodies or wings. Dragged under the surface, the birds are unable to free themselves and drown.

Such unintended "bycatch" is having a catastrophic effect on global seabird populations. At least 23 species of seabirds, including 16 species of albatross, are considered threatened or in danger of extinction. The killing of seabirds in longline fisheries is a global problem from which the U.S. is not immune. In the North Pacific tens of thousands of albatrosses and other seabirds have perished on the high seas, where millions of hooks present an ever-present danger to populations of Black-footed, Laysan, and Short-tailed albatross populations. In oceans around the world, the dramatic increase in the number of longliners has accelerated the plummeting of seabird populations. In the world's southern oceans, such species as Amsterdam, Indian Yellow-nosed, and Black-browed albatrosses, White-chinned and Spectacled petrels, and Southern Giant-Petrels have seen steep to severe declines in breeding populations."

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In its commitment to conservation of the world's bird species and their habitats, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours proudly supports the efforts of the American Bird Conservancy and Birdlife International in their campaign to slow and even reverse the horrifying effects of longline fishing on the world's seabird species. These two highly effective conservation organizations have partnered for this endeavor, and are leading the way in public education to sound the alarm about seabird mortality. On our Antarctica Cruise, December 2005-January 2006, VENT leaders teamed with Clipper Cruise Line staff to spread the word of the need for securing donations for the protection of seabird species. VENT contributed $500 to the cause and helped raise an additional $7,000 for ABC/Birdlife International. Several VENT participants followed up with ABC following the cruise, and requested additional literature and information for distribution to friends and local conservation-minded organizations.

Remarkably, a number of protective measures have been proven to drastically reduce the seabird bycatch without reducing fish take; such methods are championed by ABC/Birdlife International as the means for driving change. These include:

Bird-scaring lines: colored streamers, attached to a streamer line, flap above the surface of the sea while the baited longline sinks. Birds are scared away by the flapping streamers, and the baited hooks sink safely to depths where seabirds cannot reach.

Weighted Lines: attaching heavier weights to baited longlines causes the line to sink faster, before seabirds can converge on the hooks.

Dyed bait: bait dyed blue is not as obvious to seabirds, which reduces the likelihood of a bird being attracted to a floating piece of bait.

In addition, ABC and Birdlife International have assumed the cost of production of instructive manuals targeting longline fishermen, in which fishermen are taught to longline safely, without killing seabirds. These manuals are also being translated into non-English languages for fishing fleets operating in international waters. Finally, observers are being paid to monitor longlining practices on the high seas and document seabird bycatch.

The results of these combined efforts have been positive, with a dramatic decline noted in seabird mortality in the Hawaiian and Alaskan longline fisheries. Efforts in the southern hemisphere have met with less success. Regulations are lax, and enforcement is almost nonexistent in many parts of the world. Even worse, a thriving pirate fishing industry is believed to account for tens of thousands of additional undocumented seabird deaths.

ABC and Birdlife International have continued to strongly support legislation, at home and abroad, that is written with the intent of imposing rules and regulations on the longline fishing industry to reduce seabird mortality. VENT will continue to offer as much support as it can for this critically important conservation issue.

Please visit the websites of the American Bird Conservancy http://www.abcbirds.org/policy/seabirds.htm and Birdlife International http://www.birdlife.org/action/campaigns/save_the_albatross/index.html to learn much more about this issue of global importance.