Tuna Demand Threatens to Wipe Out Albatross

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Tuna Demand Threatens to Wipe Out Albatross

By Louise Gray, Telegraph.co.uk

Dying at a rate of around one every five minutes, the albatross family is becoming threatened faster than any other family of birds....The birds get caught on the hook and quickly drown when the lines are set. The bodies of these birds, recovered hours later, are a grim reminder of the sheer toll of seabirds that these fisheries can take.

The Atlantic and Mediterranean tuna stocks are one of the most heavily fished in the world as demand rises for the cheap fish.

But a new study by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) warns that the method used to fish tuna is killing rare birds in unprecedented numbers and threatening to wipe out certain species like the albatross altogether.

The charity estimates that 37 bird species, of which 18 are already at risk of extinction, are being threatened by longline fisheries in the South Atlantic and Mediterranean.

The boats throw out a series of baited hooks to catch the fish but before they sink to the bottom birds dive in and become tangled in the lines.

The RSPB want the fishing industry, meeting this week for International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), to bring in relatively cheap and simple measures that stop the birds getting caught on the hooks.

The UK is the world’s second biggest consumer of tuna in the world and already many major retailers have phased out net-caught tuna because it kills dolphins and turtles.

But Dr Cleo Small, an albatross expert working with the RSPB, said thousands of birds are being killed every year because of line-caught tuna.

“The birds get caught on the hook and quickly drown when the lines are set,” she said. “The bodies of these birds, recovered hours later, are a grim reminder of the sheer toll of seabirds that these fisheries can take.”

The wandering albatross, that has the largest wingspan of any bird and is considered British because it nests in the UK Overseas Territories, could be lost forever.

A recent study by the British Antarctic Survey found numbers in South Georgia have halved since the 1960s.

Dr Small said globally 18 out of the 22 species of albatross are in danger of extinction.

“Dying at a rate of around one every five minutes, the albatross family is becoming threatened faster than any other family of birds,” she added.

Other birds in danger from longline fisheries are also important to the UK. The Balearic shearwater nests on the Balearic Islands of the Mediterranean but is a regular visitor to the south of Britain and the Tristan albatross is only found on the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha.

Cheap methods of keeping birds away from longlines have already proved successful in other fisheries around the world. The most effective method is putting out brightly-coloured streamers behind the boat that stop the birds diving for the bait before it has sunk. The boats can also fish at night when there are fewer birds around or dye the bait blue so birds cannot see it.

Consumers can look out for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label that ensures tuna has been caught in a sustainable method such as hand-caught by pole and line.

ICCAT will also be discussing the future of the critically endangered bluefin tuna that is still being fished and served in high end restaurants despite protests from celebrities including Elle Macpherson and Stephen Fry.