Topic Area: Endangered Species
Geographic Area: The Southern Ocean and Indian Ocean
Focal Question: Saving the Albatrosses: What are the Implications of New Conservation Measures for Long-line Fisheries?
(1) Brothers, N., 1991. "Albatross Mortality and Associated Bait Loss in the Japanese Longline Fishery in the Southern Ocean." Biological Conservation, 55(3): 255- 68.
(2) Brothers, N.et al, 1998. "Foraging Movements of the Shy Albatross Breeding in Australia; Implications for Interactions with Long-line Fisheries." Ibis, 140(3): 446- 57.
(3) Cherel, Y. et al, 1996. "Interactions between long-line vessels and seabirds on Kerguelen Waters and a method to reduce seabird mortality." Biological Conservation, 75: 63-70.
(4) Weimerskirch, H., 1997. "Population Dynamics of the Wandering Albatross and Amsterdam Albatross in the Indian Ocean and their Relationships with Long- line Fisheries: Conservation Implications." Biological Conservation, 79(2-3): 257-70.
Reviewer: Christina Schleicher, Colby College '99
Over the last thirty years, albatross populations have declined. Extensive conservation measures to protect the albatrosses are in place, but satellite tracking reveals that outside the breeding season the birds have contact with long-line fisheries. Two long-line fisheries in particular present a major threat to the birds: the Japanese Southern blue- fin tuna fishery and the Patagonian tooth- fish fishery. In the waters where these fisheries operate there is growing concern over the incidental capture of seabirds by vessels. Albatrosses face endangerment and possible extinction if further measures of protection are not taken. Studies show that fisheries can modify many of their practices in order to spare the lives of the birds. However, asking fisheries to alter their practices is problematic. The economic costs to the fisheries must be considered, as well as the difficulties of monitoring and enforcing any newly imposed regulations.
In the early 1990s, the Scientific Committee for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (SC-CAMLR) proposed a list of modifications for longline fishing techniques. The list "included the use of streamers trailed behind the ship to deter birds from alighting on the water to take baits, the use of weights on branch lines to facilitate rapid sinking of hooked baits, setting longlines only at night, and prohibiting the dumping of offal to reduce the attractiveness of longline vessels for seabirds (Cherel, 1995). With this list, SC-CAMLR acknowledged that protective measures needed to be taken, but concluded that more studies were needed to test these effectiveness of these measures.
In February 1994, Yves Cherel and a team of researchers investigated seabird mortality while aboard a long line fishing vessel. The team sought to test the effectiveness of a measure opposed by SC-CAMLR: the dumping of offal to deter seabirds from the vessel. The study found that dumping offal during line setting is an effective way to in minimize albatross mortality and should be added to the regulations for longline fisheries. Enforcement of this regulation could be carried out by scientific observers placed on vessels (Cherel, 1996).
Another study done by Henri Weimerskirch concluded that there are only two ways to protect albatross from extinction: (1) prevent fisheries from operating in areas with a high concentration of breeding birds, or (2) adopt and impose measures of protection on fishing vessels. The study does not suggest that fishing should be completely restricted from all areas with high albatross populations; this extreme measure would eliminate any economically profitable activities in waters such as the Southern Ocean (Weimerskirch, 1997). The study shows the necessity to regulate fishery behavior, but raises concerns over the implementation and enforcement of such regulations.
The study recommends measures to reduce albatross mortality such as setting fishing lines at night and increasing the sinking rate of bait. Problems arise, however, due to the difficulty of monitoring and enforcing the practices of long line fisheries. Since long line fisheries usually operate outside the EEZ in international waters, implementation of new practices will likely take a long time and actual enforcement of these practices may be impossible. In addition, the conversion of banned drift-net vessels into long line fishing vessels will make enforcement of conservation even more complicated (Weimerskirch, 1997). In the absence of enforcement, the long line fisheries may have no incentive to change their behavior, as altering practices may be costly. Even if enforcement is possible, the question of who should be given authority to enforce laws in international territory is problematic.
Another recent study done by Nigel Brothers suggests that long line fisheries can, in fact, have economic incentive to adopt and comply with conservation measures. Brothers says that albatrosses cause huge annual losses for the Japanese southern bluefin tuna fishery. Since albatross interference causes a decrease in the total weight of tuna caught, the fishery suffers economic losses of roughly 7 million Australian dollars per year (Brothers, 1991). Furthermore, this estimation includes neither the economic losses of other fish species nor the losses from reduced operating efficiency of fishing vessels.
Brothers' study tests the use of fishing techniques aimed to protect the albatross. He finds that using a streamer line to keep albatross away from bait is an attractive measure: annual bait loss is reduced by 69%, the fishery saves an annual 4.9 million Australian dollars, and the fishery preserves the lives of 30,300 albatrosses per year (Brothers, 1991). In addition to using streamer lines to reduce albatross interference, fisheries can save money by improving the rate at which baits sink. By adding more weight to branches of the lines, the bait sinks faster and the albatross have less opportunity to feed on bait. Improving bait- throwing efficiency through mechanization or through education of crew members is also shown to deter birds from fishing vessels (Brothers, 1991). Using these methods will greatly decrease the incentive for albatrosses to follow vessels, and, consequently, will substantially reduce economic losses for fisheries. Working to conserve the albatrosses may be economically attractive for fisheries. If fisheries willingly apply measures of conservation on their vessels, then the need to monitor and enforce regulations may disappear.
The studies all agree that new measures to conserve albatrosses are necessary. Since long line fisheries directly affect the birds, regulations to alter fishery practices must be updated. It seems that fisheries can change their practices relatively easily and without great economic costs.