Longliners required to help preserve seabirds

The Taiwanese Department of Fisheries under the Council of Agriculture said on Sunday that all Taiwanese longline vessels heading for waters below 28 degrees south latitude are now required to carry equipment to help them avoid catching seabirds during their fishing operations.

Officials at the fishery department quoted a 2003 report by BirdLife International as saying that longline fishing vessels pose the single greatest threat to seabirds, with the future particularly grim for 17 species of albatross and five species of petrels. Nineteen of these species are found in the waters below 30 degrees south latitude.

These seabirds like to scavenge behind fishing vessels and dive into the sea to eat the bait on the hooks. Hundreds of thousands of them die each year after getting caught on hooks.

Although most of Taiwan’s longliners operate in waters that are not habitats of the endangered albatross and petrel species, the government has decided that as a member of the global community, Taiwan has an obligation to help with the seabird conservation efforts of the world community, fishery officials added.

The officials said all longline fishing vessels bound for the Southern Ocean must now use bird-scaring lines with plastic streamers that flap vigorously behind the vessel deterring the birds from baited hooks, or else they must weight their lines so that they sink rapidly out of the reach of the birds.

A global campaign is under way to save the seabirds, with support from bird societies in more than 100 countries. They call for measures to help reduce the death toll on the birds, including using bird-friendly techniques, fishing by night – because the birds mainly feed and scavenge by day – or fishing in seasons when the birds are migrating elsewhere.