IUCN Urges Greater Protection For Seabirds In Longline Fisheries

(10/23/1996) - Montreal, Canada - Two leading U.S. environmental groups, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Defenders of Wildlife, praised the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for adopting a resolution early this morning that calls for the widespread use of measures that would prevent seabirds from getting hooked and drowned on commercial fishing lines.

EDF and Defenders of Wildlife authored the resolution, which was cosponsored by 17 conservation groups and is strongly supported by the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and other governments.

Scientists agree that longline fishing severely impacts at least 13 seabird species, three of which are globally threatened with extinction. A longline can be up to 80 miles long, carrying several thousand baited hooks. Worldwide, an estimated 180,000 birds die on hooks each year in the tuna, swordfish, sablefish, and other longline fisheries. One of the birds most at risk is the wandering albatross, among the world's most magnificent birds. It has a 10-foot wingspan and can glide over thousands of miles of ocean in a month. "Tragically, about 10 percent of the world's wandering albatross population is killed each year by longlines," said Jim Wyerman, Defenders of Wildlife Vice President.

Dr. Rod Fujita, an EDF scientist, noted that, "Some fishermen are already trying hard to avoid killing seabirds. For example, fishermen of the North Pacific are adapting techniques that have worked elsewhere and are developing new methods to reduce seabird mortality." He went on to say that, "The North Pacific Longline Association (NPLA) has even proposed new regulations that incorporate many of the measures described in the IUCN resolution."

Dr. Charles Wurster, an ornithologist and EDF trustee, emphasizes that, "These great oceanic birds are a visible signal of the health of the oceans - and many are in decline. Fortunately, practical solutions exist. By preventing birds from going after the bait, more fish can be caught."

Fishermen can minimize conflicts with seabirds by putting extra weight on lines to make bait sink faster, by setting hooks at night, and by using streamer lines that scare birds away.

Seabird bycatch and other international conservation problems have been considered at the IUCN assembly convened at Montreal's Palais Des Congres from October 14 - 23. The largest gathering of conservationists since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, this IUCN meeting has attracted approximately 2,500 representatives from 144 nations.

Defenders VP Wyerman concluded, "Measures to avoid hooking seabirds need to become widespread throughout the global longlining fleet. The IUCN resolution is a positive first step."



Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x220 (Media)
Dr. Rod Fujita, 510-658-8008\339-1050 (EDF)