On the Ground: Care for the Wild International

Sarah Speight

Scheme: Southern Seabird Solutions

Funding: CFTWI is donating £30,000 to organise and promote a three-day forum, and pay for fishermen's international travel grants

Objectives: To encourage the conservation of the albatross in South America

Each year, 100,000 of the world's largest seabirds are drowned by commercial longline fishing. The albatross has the highest proportion of threatened species of any bird family, with 20 of the 24 species classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.

Longline fishing uses baited hooks on the ends of lines that are submerged under the sea. The albatrosses, attracted to the dead squid and other fish that are used as bait, get caught on the hooks and are dragged underwater.

Since New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands have the largest number of albatross species in the world, the government there has set up Southern Seabird Solutions, which aims to reduce the number of fishing-related seabird deaths in the southern hemisphere.

Chile's ambassador to New Zealand, Carlos Appelgren, emphasised the importance of the albatross to both New Zealanders and South Americans. "These magnificent birds are international travellers that help link our two countries. What happens in New Zealand's waters, and what happens in South American waters has a huge bearing on their survival."

A three-day forum, initiated by Southern Seabird Solutions, is to be held in 2005 in South America. Attendees will include scientists, conservationists and fishermen from Chile, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and the Falklands.

British-based animal welfare and conservation charity Care for the Wild International is supporting the project.

The charity's chief executive, Dr Barbara Maas, said: "The forum is intended to create new partnerships where people from all sides of the debate link hands."

She explained that a viable solution to the problem is finding fishing practices that minimise offal discharge from fishing boats, which exacerbates the problem by attracting the albatrosses to the hooks.

She added that a 'naming and shaming of bad boats' would spur the fishing industry to use responsible methods.

To do this, the project aims to encourage a sharing of skills and knowledge between scientists and the fishing industry, and is working with other involved parties, such as supermarkets.

But, explained Maas, the onus is upon those who work the boats. "It is what happens on the fishing boats that is important," she added.

"Saving the albatross is in the hands of the fishermen, whether we like it or not."

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