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100,000 Albatross Petition Presented To UN

Saturday 26 June 2004 Wellington

100,000 Albatross Petition Presented To UN

United Nations delegates in Rome were today urged to halt the illegal pirate fishing which is responsible for the mass slaughter of albatrosses in the Southern Ocean when a 100,000 signature petition organised by Forest and Bird on behalf of the BirdLife International Save the Albatross campaign was presented to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) meeting.

The petition was presented by round-the-world sailors John and Marie-Christine Ridgway, and Dr Euan Dunn of the UK Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on behalf of Forest and Bird and BirdLife International. The first signature of the petition is that of New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. The campaign is also supported by The Prince of Wales.

The presentation follows the year-long round the world Save the Albatross voyage undertaken by John and Marie-Christine Ridgway, which highlighted the slaughter of seabirds by pirate longline fishing vessels and promoted the petition. The voyage in their yacht, English Rose VI, visited Wellington in January where they were farewelled by Prime Minister Helen Clark. The voyage ended in London last week on 18 June.

The petition, organised by Forest and Bird on behalf of BirdLife International, calls for urgent action to save albatross species from extinction. More than 105,000 people - at least one for every albatross killed by longliners every year - have signed the petition from 131 countries, including New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, Conservation Minister Chris Carter and Environment Minister Marion Hobbs. The Prince of Wales has also voiced his support for the campaign and in a letter last week which said: "These magnificent birds cannot now be allowed to slide quietly into extinction, and particularly not when the damage is both entirely man-made and easily preventable."

"We are very pleased that the 105,000 signature petition presented in Rome includes those of our Prime Minister, Helen Clark, the Minister of Conservation, Chris Carter, and the Minister for the Environment, Marion Hobbs," said Forest and Bird Conservation Director Kevin Hackwell. "Forest and Bird looks forward to New Zealand leading the international pressure to slash seabird deaths at home and overseas, and to combating pirate fishing on the High Seas."

More than 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses are killed by longline fishing vessels every year. Many of these ships are pirates sailing under flags of convenience. Pirate fishing is a highly sophisticated, organised crime, and a major contributor to the extinction threat to all 21 albatross species. More albatross species (14) breed in New Zealand than any other country in the world.

The FAO's International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, was adopted in March 2001. The meeting, which began in Rome on Friday, was called to review progress towards putting the plan into action, nationally and internationally.

The petition calls on UN states to: * outlaw flag of convenience fishing vessels and deny them access to markets and ports; * ratify legally binding agreements, including the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), to protect albatrosses and other marine life, and * fund and resource efforts to catch and prosecute pirate vessels and share intelligence on them to produce a globally agreed blacklist of offenders.

Longline fishing poses the most serious extinction threat to albatrosses. Pirate longline fleets primarily target Patagonian toothfish and southern bluefin tuna - both of which are also endangered - for lucrative fish markets in Japan and the US. Tuna longliners set lines of up to 100 km long carrying hundreds of millions of baited hooks; seabirds are lured onto the hooks, dragged underwater and drowned.

John Ridgway said: "I am desperate to help the albatross and absolutely thrilled that so many people have signed the petition. But this really is the eleventh hour. The fishing nations of the world must put the pirates out of business by stopping them selling fish or even entering port."

Dr Euan Dunn, Head of Marine Policy at the RSPB, said: "The petition sends a powerful message to FAO member countries that civil society demands decisive action to stamp out pirate fishing. John Ridgway's voyage has distilled the spirit of the albatross into a rallying cry to halt the pillaging of fish stocks and the slaughter of seabirds."

Kevin Hackwell, Conservation Director of Forest and Bird said: "Most pirate fishing vessels are owned by companies based in Taiwan, Spain, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, China and Equatorial Guinea. It's time the UN put pressure on these countries to stop the criminal actions of companies responsible for this senseless slaughter."

Dr Mike Rands, Director of BirdLife International said: "More than 105,000 people have signed this petition, alerting the world to the very real possibility of a future in which albatrosses no longer grace our oceans. This magnificent show of public support must now be followed up with tough action from the world's governments to outlaw pirate fishing once and for all."

ENDS


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