Action and momentum is building across the Asia-Pacific tuna industry to reduce capture of threatened albatrosses and other seabirds in longline fisheries.
Last week, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) joined more than 80 fishing company representatives and government officials from nine APEC economies in a roundtable to develop the Seabird-Safe Fishing Toolkit to help solve the problem of seabirds becoming entangled, hooked and drowned in fishing operations.
The toolkit project is a New Zealand-funded project, with the support of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Oceans and Fisheries Working Group. The project is co-sponsored by Chile, People’s Republic of China, Peru, Chinese Taipei, and the United States. The toolkit will be developed over 2024 and presented to the APEC Oceans and Fisheries Working Group in August 2024.
Mandy Leathers, Senior International Advisor at New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, said the toolkit is a “one-stop shop” that brings together essential information about the ocean areas important to threatened seabirds, the best measures to avoid bycatch of seabirds, and robust monitoring methods.
A growing number of global companies involved in tuna fishing want to address impacts on threatened marine wildlife to meet the demands of their markets. We want to support them as much as we can.
Unlike many global environmental issues, there are effective ways to solve the problem of seabird captures in longline fishing operations. This relies on fisheries having the necessary information, as they have a key part to play,” said Leathers.
Seafood companies Thai Union and Tri Marine, and Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS) attended the roundtable and support the toolkit. .
Martin Exel, Managing Director of SeaBOS, said science-based solutions like this toolkit, developed and implemented by conservation and science in conjunction with industry, are critical to reducing impacts on endangered species of seabirds, and achieving sustainable seafood production.
“Reducing the impacts of fishing on endangered species of seabirds is something we must all do, and having the options and approaches outlined in this way will speed up the process of restoring seabird population health, while also improving catches and returns for the industry. It’s a win-win for seabirds, the seafood sector, conservation, science, government, and industry,” said Exel.
Thai Union’s Sustainable Fish Sourcing Director, Fong Lee, says the development of the Seabird-Safe Fishing Toolkit marks a pivotal moment in their ongoing efforts to safeguard marine biodiversity.
“At Thai Union, our commitment extends beyond pledges. It’s about tangible actions and continuous improvement. This toolkit is a critical step towards resolving the pressing issue of seabird bycatch in fishing operations. By harnessing best practices, innovative technologies, and collaborative efforts, we aim to significantly reduce the unintended harm to seabirds.
Thai Union has already pledged to only source from vessels that are implementing best practices to protect ocean wildlife from bycatch, including seabirds. Our goal is clear – to ensure that our oceans remain vibrant and teeming with life, for the seabirds and all marine creatures. This is a responsibility we shoulder and a challenge we embrace wholeheartedly,” said Lee.
Conservation and Sustainable Seafood NGOs also have a key role in the development of the toolkit.
Alexia Morgan, Ocean Wildlife Manager at Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP),
said SFP is engaging with its partner wholesalers and buyers, who want to understand the impacts of their sourcing on the wider ecosystem.
“We have a narrow window of time to stop albatross extinctions. The toolkit will help
accelerate progress by supporting these companies in delivering on their existing
sustainability policies to protect albatrosses and other seabirds,” said Morgan.
Matt Watson, Senior Fisheries Program Manager for the Asia Pacific at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), said consumer demands are driving a shift in the tuna sector.
“Retailers, brands and restaurants around the world are choosing to source MSC certified tuna and use the MSC blue fish tick label on their products and menus.
“Fisheries need to demonstrate that they are minimising mortality of threatened species through best practice management measures, which now require independent verification. We hope the toolkit will help fishing fleets navigate these challenges and achieve certification,” said Watson.
- The APEC Ocean and Fisheries Working Group (OFWG) works to facilitate free and open trade in the region and promotes the sustainable use of fisheries, aquaculture, and marine ecosystem resources and related goods and services. The OFWG promotes cooperation among its members, governments, academia, private industry, and regional and international organisations to advance this process.
- The world’s albatrosses and petrels are facing an urgent and continuing conservation crisis. The international expert body on albatross and petrel conservation – Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and petrels – reports that thousands of albatrosses and petrels are continuing to die every year as a result of fisheries operations.
- Several albatrosses are at risk of extinction, including Antipodean albatross in the south Pacific Ocean, the Tristan and wandering albatrosses in the Atlantic, and the waved albatross, which feeds in South American waters. Recovery of these populations relies on fishing companies rapidly adopting safe fishing practices for albatrosses and other seabirds.
- A range of solutions can help prevent seabirds from becoming hooked. These include setting longlines at night, using weights to sink hooks quickly, using a bird scaring line, and using devices to shield or protect the hook such as hook pods.
- Monitoring techniques to confirm vessels are using seabird protection measures include on-board observers, electronic monitoring (cameras), port checks, and satellite data from vessels.
- The toolkit project is funded by the New Zealand Nature Fund, Live Ocean and a U.S. philanthropist, and led by Southern Seabirds Trust a non-profit organisation based in New Zealand. The partners of the Trust are the New Zealand Government (Department of Conservation, Fisheries New Zealand, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade), Seafood New Zealand, Te Ohu Kai Moana and WWF-New Zealand. The Trust works collaboratively with fishers and fishing companies to protect seabirds.