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The Impact of Bird-Death on Sustainable Fishing Practices

| Wednesday October 5th, 2011 | 0 Comments

According to a recent study presented at the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity, sea-birds are in severe peril of becoming extinct due to certain fishing techniques. It looks like fishing companies have to consider more than just fish when it comes to their CSR initiatives.

The report suggests that at least 320,000 birds die as bycatch every year in fishing lines. This is pushing some species like albatross, petrels and shearwaters toward extinction. The researchers imply that this is because many fishing fleets are not taking simple measures to prevent birds from chasing bait.

The conference which was held in Aberdeen, Scotland had presenters from RSPB and BirdLife International making the case to reduce the number of birds killed due to fishing activities. According to them, information is absent for bird deaths around Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway, distant Asian fishing grounds and the Mediterranean.

The current estimates are only valid for Spanish longline fleets fishing the Gran Sol grounds off southwest Ireland. These ships kill as many as 50,000 birds a year (mostly shearwaters and fulmars), and the Japanese tuna fleet killing 20,000 birds a year, seriously affecting albatross populations. The birds take bait from hooks, get caught in the fishing lines and drown. Some fleets have cut out bird-death by using bird-scaring lines and weighing the hooks down so they are well below the water surface. Others however, are not monitoring the problem. One of the issues is that there is no global baseline against which progress can be measured.

Despite these limitations, tough measures around South Georgia in the south Atlantic have brought a 99% reduction in bird-death. In 2008, South Africa achieved an 85% drop in its foreign-licensed fleet. Brazil passed a law in April requiring stringent monitoring of bycatch in its domestic tuna fleets. BirdLife International and RSPB set up the Albatross Task Force, to work with fishing industries in South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador. Measures to reduce birth death include dyeing fish-bait blue to make it less visible to birds, setting lines at night when birds are less active, or setting them deeper underwater, through chutes, and controlling discards of unwanted fish.

Restaurant chains like Olive Garden, McDonald’s etc have taken measures in the recent years to ensure sustainable seafood. Retail giants like Costco, Walmart, and Marks & Spencer’s have realized the importance of sustainable seafood by choosing species that are not endangered, using fishing companies with sustainable fishing techniques and paying closer attention to their suppliers and supply chain. Other fishing companies like John West have worked to improve their fishing techniques to eliminate bycatch but according to this report, there is much more to be done.

Ensuring sustainable seafood is supremely challenging due to the global nature of the industry, migratory nature of fish, collapse of fisheries, illegal fishing and other factors. Retailers, seafood restaurants and other stakeholders now have to insist on mandatory protection of seabirds if they are to ensure a more sustainable seafood supply.

Image Credit: XLerate, Wikimedia Commons. Northern Albatross.


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