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Facts & Figures On Albatross Deaths

Media Advisory to accompany press release

“Round-the-world expedition targets pirates to halt albatross deaths”

Facts & Figures

There are 21 species of albatross in total of which 17 inhabit the coasts and islands of the Southern Ocean.

Albatrosses breed for life, the large species usually producing one chick just once every two years.

The lifespan of an albatross can be at least 50 years but most are now dying well before they reach that age.

Of the 56 seabird species listed as globally threatened, 28 are killed by longline fishing.

The number of albatrosses threatened with extinction increased from one third to three quarters of all albatross species between 1994 and 2000.

Albatrosses are being killed faster than they can re-populate.

Pirate fishing has doubled in the last ten years. There are around 1,300 pirate vessels worldwide from a global fleet of 38,400 vessels each of 100-plus tonnes.

The British Antarctic Survey says fishing fleets are losing around £10m a year because albatrosses are entangled on their lines preventing fish being caught.

Mitigation measures

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is a regional fisheries organisation which manages much of the Southern Ocean. In 1996, the CCAMLR introduced a number of mitigation measures designed to reduce seabird deaths. Ships fishing under the CCAMLR licence in the Southern Ocean are legally required to abide by these measures, which include:

-bird scaring lines with flapping, coloured streamers;

-weighted bait to make lines sink faster;

-setting fishing lines at night, when the large albatrosses are not usually feeding;

-timing the fishing season to miss the birds’ breeding season;

-avoiding the discharge of fish waste when lines are being set;

-an on-board CCAMLR-registered observer to guarantee that fish catches are albatross-friendly, enabling markets and consumers to avoid illegally fished products.

Since 1996, seabird mortality from legal fishing in the Southern Ocean has dropped to a few hundred birds per year. It has been estimated that catches of Patagonian Toothfish by illegal vessels from 1999 to 2000, using few or no seabird mitigation measures, were similar to the legal catch.

Birdlife wants CCAMLR conservation measures built into fishing regulations worldwide. Birdlife is working with governments and the fishing industry around the world to promote simple, practical steps to stop seabirds being caught on longlines.

Pirate fishing

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), pirate fishing accounts for around one quarter of the world’s fish catch and poses the biggest single threat to global fish stocks.

Pirate fishing has doubled in the last ten years.

Illegally harvested Patagonian Toothfish accounts for 50–80% of the world trade, worth an estimated £300m annually.

The biggest market is that for sushi and sashimi in Japan.

Toothfish are now extinct in the waters surrounding Crozet Island in the Southern Ocean.

A single Bluefin Tuna has been known to fetch approximately $80,000 on the Japanese market.

Flags of convenience

Most pirate ships fish under a flag of convenience (FoC) – the flag of a country with no legal access to fisheries nor any interest in following regulations. Most are owned by companies based in ten states: Taiwan, Spain, Belize, Panama, Honduras, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, China and Equatorial Guinea. The UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) has urged responsible fishing nations to abide by its voluntary International Plan of Action (1999) to combat illegal fishing. BirdLife wants fishing nations to bar FoC vessels from their ports, ban the trade in their products and impose severe penalties on offending vessel owners.

John Ridgway’s route and the albatross species he will highlight


Leg of journey Highlighted albatross species World population (pairs) IUCN threat status Notes
Canary Is -> Cape Town Atlantic Yellow-nosed 35,000 NT Endemic to Tristan/Gough where decline suggests status should be EN; ca 1100 killed annually on longlines off S Brazil
Cape Town -> Melbourne Wandering 8,500 VU Largest flying seabird; victim of longlines; in chronic decline on S Georgia
Melbourne -> Welington (NZ) Buller’s

Antipodean 29,500

11,230 VU, VU Both confined to New Zealand and caught on longlines
Wellington -> Port Stanley Northern Royal/ Southern Royal

Chatham 6,500 –7,070/ 8,280 – 8,690

5,300 EN/VU, CR Northern Royal is EN, Southern Royal VU; Chatham Alb is CR, confined to one stack off the Chatham Is, longline victim off NZ, Chile and Peru
Port Stanley -> South Georgia Black-browed 500,000 VU Freely caught on tuna and toothfish longlines; Falklands popn down by 86,000 pairs (18%) in the last 5 years
S Georgia -> Gough I. Grey-headed 92,300 VU Efficient bait stealers – especially vulnerable to longline fishing
Gough -> Cape Town Tristan 1,500 EN World’s third rarest albatross, virtually confined to Gough Island, killed on longlines in S Brazil and probably elsewhere


The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List criteria for species of conservation concern are: CR - Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future); EN- Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future); V - Vulnerable (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term); and NT – Near Threatened (close to qualifying for, or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future. See BirdLife International (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Ediciones and BirdLife.


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