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New Zealand part of regional fisheries org

New Zealand part of regional fisheries organisation

failing to safeguard world’s threatened albatrosses

New Zealand is part of one of three inter-governmental Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) singled out as failing to prevent the slaughter of the world’s albatrosses in longline fisheries in a new review published by BirdLife International today. Forest and Bird is the BirdLife International Partner in New Zealand .

The review is the first to rank the environmental performance of the world’s 19 RFMOs.

Of chief concern are the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), of which New Zealand is one of five members. These three organisations are doing little or nothing to reduce the bycatch of seabirds, sharks and turtles in their fisheries, while at the same time many of the fish stocks they manage have declined by more than 90 per cent.

“These organisations have a legal and moral obligation to force the fisheries they govern to reduce this wildlife toll”, said BirdLife’s International Marine Policy Officer Dr Cleo Small. “But they are only as strong as the political will of the countries making them up. Maximising fish catches for export is still the top priority for many member countries, an approach which has left fish stocks and other marine species decimated with dire consequences for marine ecosystems and local fishing communities.”

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In BirdLife’s review the RFMOs are measured against their duties, as required by international law. Only one of the 19 organisations, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which New Zealand is also a member of, is taking a wide range of actions to tackle bycatch in Antarctic waters.

“It is mandatory for New Zealand vessels to use a combination of seabird bycatch mitigation measures when fishing in Antarctic waters under CCAMLR. But these measures are not mandatory in New Zealand waters, immediately adjacent,” said Forest and Bird Conservation Director Kevin Hackwell .

“ Forest and Bird wants the New Zealand Government to remove this double standard and adopt the CCAMLR requirements as minimum mandatory measures within the National Plan of Action for Reducing Seabird By-catch. New Zealand also needs to set a target of reducing seabird bycatch by 90% over the next two years and ensure adequate independent observer coverage to verify these measures are used. In Falkland Islands fisheries these measures have led to a more than 90% reduction in seabird bycatch.”

Forest and Bird’s call comes after HRH The Prince of Wales made a heartfelt plea for governments and the fishing industry to adopt the use of seabird bycatch mitigation measures and establish more “no-take” marine parks or reserves in a speech he gave at the Taiaroa Head Royal Albatross colony in Dunedin on Sunday 6th March.

Speaking on seabird bycatch mitigation measures he said, “The real challenge is to make these solutions mandatory on every longline vessel, not just some.” Speaking about “no-take” marine reserves he said, “They would not only be crucial for the survival of the albatross and petrels, but they also have the potential to allow fish stocks to regenerate and provide natural reservoirs from which other areas of the ocean can be repopulated.”

BirdLife’s review also notes populations of albatrosses, dolphins, sharks and turtles have plummeted, partly because many of the 19 RFMOs governing the world’s seas are ignoring international laws requiring action to safeguard marine wildlife and tackle pirate fishing. More than 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses, and thousands of marine mammals and turtles are killed by both legal and illegal longline fishing fleets every year, with many RFMOs turning a blind eye to the problem.

The review, Regional Fisheries Management Organisations; Their Duties and Performance in Reducing Incidental Mortality of Albatrosses, will be presented to delegates at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s five-day meeting in Rome starting today.

Review: the full text of the review is available from: (2.5MB)

Images: multiple images of albatrosses and longline fisheries are available free of charge from the BirdLife International website at:

To download an image, right click on one and copy it. Please credit photographers.

Notes to Editors

BirdLife International

BirdLife International is a global partnership of national non-government bird and nature conservation organisations present in more than 100 countries. Together they are the world’s leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the threats they face. The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society is the BirdLife International Partner in New Zealand .

FAO Committee on Fisheries Meeting

• The report will be launched at the 26th Session of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Committee on Fisheries (FAO-COFI) at the FAO Headquarters in Rome from March 7-11, 2005 , followed by the Ministerial Meeting on March 12. COFI is the only global inter-governmental forum where maj or fisheries issues are reviewed, addressed and recommendations made to governments and regional fisheries’ bodies. Delegates from about one hundred countries are expected to attend the meeting at which BirdLife International has observer status.

Regional Fisheries Management Organisations

• Regional Fisheries Management Organisations are inter-governmental organisations with responsibility for managing high seas and migratory fish stocks such as tunas, swordfish, cod, toothfish and billfish. There are currently 19 RFMOs, of which 16 are active.

• Conclusions drawn in the BirdLife study were based on 114 criteria drawn from principles established in the United Nations Law of the Sea (1994), the UN Fish Stocks Agreement (1995) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (1995). These legal agreements have set RFMO standards for conserving fish and other species. The criteria included assessment of management of fish stocks, measures to reduce pirate fishing, efforts to reduce bycatch, and openness and transparency. Some RFMOs have conservation written into their constitutions, others do not.

• All 19 RFMOs were assessed. The five RFMOs whose areas overlap most with albatrosses are:

Ø The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) – which scores very poorly in the assessment. It has no catch quotas, and no measures to either collect data on, or reduce, bycatch.

Ø The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) – which also scores poorly in terms of both fish stocks and reducing bycatch.

Ø The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) - mostly covering the southern Indian Ocean and parts of the South Atlantic . Stocks of this fish have dropped by more than 95 per cent since 1950. There are 17 albatross species that use CCSBT waters. Most spend almost all their lives there.

Ø The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC, Pacific Ocean ), which was established late last year.

Ø The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). CCAMLR is the fifth most important RFMO in terms of albatross distribution. It has taken extensive action to reduce bycatch.

• Members of the three worst performing RFMOs are:

Ø IOTC: Australia, China, Comoros, Eritrea, EU, France, India, Iran, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Oman, Pakistan, The Philippines, Seychelles, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, UK, Vanuatu.

Ø ICCAT: Algeria, Angola, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, China, Cote D’Ivoire, Croatia, Equatorial Guinea, EU, France, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinee Conakry, Honduras, Iceland, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, The Philippines, Russia, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, South Africa, South Korea, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, UK, USA, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela.

Ø CCSBT: Australia , Japan , New Zealand , South Korea , Taiwan .

The Law of the Sea was agreed in 1994 obliging all 148 signatory countries to

Ø Co-operate on their use of the high seas

Ø Conserve living resources on the high seas

Ø Ensure that species associated with, or dependent on, harvested species are not depleted to levels at which they would be seriously threatened

Ø Cooperate within sub-regional, regional or global organisations.

• The Fisheries and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1995 published a voluntary Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries to which 180 nations agreed. This articulates the Law of the Sea in more detail, establishing duties for states to cooperate within RFMOs, duties to sustainably manage fish stocks, duties to take an ‘ecosystem’ and ‘precautionary’ approach to management, and duties to minimise bycatch in their fisheries.

Impact of fisheries on fish stocks and bycatch species

Of the 21 albatross species, 19 are under global threat of extinction, primarily because they are victims of fisheries’ bycatch.

• Fishing has also caused numbers of large ocean predators, including sharks, billfish such as blue marlin, large tunas and cod to drop by 90 per cent in a decade. Southern bluefin tuna, one of the species most sought by longliners, has declined by more than 95 per cent since 1950.

• Since 1996, seabird mortality from legal fishing in the Southern Ocean – the area of CCAMLR jurisdiction and the one where most bycatch reduction methods are used - has dropped from over 6,500 birds per year in 1997 to just 15 in 2003. CCAMLR also enforces extensive measures to reduce Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU or pirate) fishing

• Mitigation measure to reduce seabird bycatch include setting lines at night when albatrosses don’t feed; setting a streamer (or tori) line to scare birds away from baited hooks; setting lines through a tube so that the baited hooks emerge underwater; weighting lines to make them sink faster out of birds’ reach. Most mitigation measures are relatively inexpensive and easy to operate. BirdLife International is working to make a group of such measures a statutory requirement on longline vessels throughout RFMOs.

Fisheries and fishing communities

• Legislation requires RFMOs manage target species but also the overall ecosystem, including human fishing communities. The approach aims not only to protect biodiversity and the environment. It also offers a means of maintaining and even increasing long-term fisheries’ production.

• FAO estimates that worldwide, 38 million people receive direct employment or income from fisheries and aquaculture. However, most fish caught by large industrial vessels on the high seas is exported to developed countries with minimal benefit to local fishing communities.

• Globally, more than 50 per cent of longline vessels are Japanese and Taiwanese. European vessels are dominated by those with connections to Spain and Norway (these ships could be Spanish flagged or owned by a Spanish company and fishing under another flag).

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (‘Pirate’) fishing

• Pirate fishing is responsible for one third of annual seabird deaths by longlining and 25 per cent of global fish catch.

Pirate fishing is a highly organised criminal activity, with many vessels hiding behind flags of convenience including those of Togo and Bolivia , which are not party to international fisheries’ agreements. Illegal ships use front companies to disguise the identity of those who profit from their activities.

• BirdLife International and its UK partner, the RSPB, wants international agreement to bar pirate vessels from ports and markets and impose heavy penalties on offending vessel owners. Key ports for landing illegally caught fish include Tanjon Priok ( Indonesia ), Hong Kong and Singapore .

• BirdLife and the RSPB are also lobbying countries that have signed but not ratified the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP). Just six countries have ratified to date - the UK , South Africa , Australia , New Zealand , Ecuador and Spain . Argentina , China , Japan , France and South Korea are priority countries for ratification.

Longlining and Albatrosses

• A longline comprises a main line with numerous branchlines ending in baited hooks. Longlines can be more than 80 miles (130 km) long and carry up to 10,000 hooks.

• As the baited line is set behind the longline vessel, it floats on the sea surface before sinking. Seabirds – especially albatrosses and petrels – are attracted to the bait and accidentally hooked as ‘bycatch’ as they attempt to swallow it. The ensnared birds are then dragged under and drowned as the fishing line sinks.

Albatrosses are being killed faster than they can re-populate. The proportion of albatross species threatened with extinction increased from one third to 19 out of the 21 albatross species between 1994 and 2004.

Albatrosses mate for life, the larger species usually producing one chick just once every two years. They may be up to 15 years old before they breed and have a lifespan of at least 50 years. Most, however, are now dying well before they reach that age.


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