Long-line Fishing Endangers Albatrosses



I’m a bit stubborn about some things, as you must to be any kind of environmentally minded person in our society.

We make choices every day about which products we do or don’t buy in the hope or knowledge that others are boycotting the same things we are, so we can feel as though we have some say. Sometimes enough people make enough of a fuss that it works. Dolphin-friendly tuna was one such campaign that changed how tuna was caught to reduce the deaths of other sea life.

I am angry about over-fishing by the industry and the amount of “by-catch”; species that are not used for food and either thrown back or turned into cat or livestock food. By-catch can form a large part of the marine life caught. But it isn’t just fish and turtles at risk.

Long-line fishing is carried out in many places where seabirds hunt; these being the best fishing areas for species both human and winged. The fishing boats aim to catch tuna, swordfish and other edible species, but they also catch albatross and petrels which come to feed. When the birds swallow the floating bait or get ensnared by hooks, they are dragged underwater to their death by the weight of the lines.

Albatross numbers have declined rapidly despite some measures to reduce the drownings. Many tuna and other long-line fishing boats ignore regulations as it is voluntary to protect these beautiful creatures and some of the boats are fishing illegally anyway.

It has been an incredibly rapid decline in numbers and many are already endangered. 16 of the 23 albatross species are on the threatened list. Albatross species breed very slowly and have a late maturity rate, so they cannot catch up in numbers very fast, and feral predatory animals accidentally introduced to their nesting islands eat eggs and chicks, adding to their problems.

Many adults ingest floating plastic, which is mistaken for food and then starve to death when it sticks in their digestive tracts. Or the plastic is mistaken as an edible morsel and fed to their chicks instead of real food. Discarded offal from the boats, which sometimes contains hooks, may also be fed to chicks causing a slow painful death.

All in all it could be a quick end to 23 species of seabird worldwide and it’s happening very fast.



It is travesty that tuna is on supermarket shelves as an everyday food, considering that long-lining is such a big threat to seabirds such as albatross; many of the fish species being caught by these methods are also over-fished. These days some tuna is caught in a more sustainable way and labeling is more apparent as to the method used to catch them.

Greenpeace have a list of which canned tuna varieties are safest for the ocean. Their list is found here.

I don’t buy tuna, even if it is dolphin-friendly, as seabirds have a part to play on this planet, and many people eat things without regard to whether they are eating an endangered or slow to recover species (such as swordfish or Patagonian tooth fish) or aiding the extinction of a variety of beautiful seabirds.

I’m no goody-two-shoes, but I’d rather live to see an albatross than eat some over-fished, over-cooked tuna. Once I was lucky enough to see a petrel at Coogee Beach; it was magnificent, much better than a tuna salad, and the memory will be with me much longer!

Some helpful links for more info:

  • Marine Conservation has lots of information for Australians about marine conservation
  • Sustainable Seafood provides a guide to which fish are less sustainable to eat. Please consider a donation to them for a pocket guide.
  • Endangered Albatross provides info about albatross and some of the things that can be done to reduce their deaths by long-line fishing
  • Marine Stewardship Council a certification body for making a more sustainable choice in the supermarket

June 2015

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