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Plan launched to save diminishing seabird population

by BuaNews Online
on 22 Aug 2008
BuaNews Online
BuaNews Online

The accidental killing of over 28 Albatross and Petrel species of seabird by local fisheries has prompted the launch of a new plan of action to help preserve the vulnerable birds.

The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism on Friday launched the National Plan of Action for Reducing the Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Long-line Fisheries (NPOA-Seabirds).

"With a total of over 28 Albatross and Petrel species recorded caught by South African fisheries, the South African seas are an important feeding ground for many albatrosses and petrels.

"Thirteen of these recorded species are currently threatened with extinction, resulting from several factors [including] the deterioration of breeding habitats, [and] targeted hunting and fishing operations," said Department Head of Research for Antarctica & Islands Dr Johann Augustyn.

Speaking to international delegates at the opening of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) advisory meeting, Dr Augustyn said declining seabird populations have been observed.

"In South Africa, a recent eastward displacement of fish stocks seems to have produced a mismatch in the distributions of the breeding localities and prey of several seabirds, with damaging effects.

"In addition, South Africa's sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands holds 44 percent of the world population of Wandering Albatross and 21 percent of the global population of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross," Dr Augustyn highlighted.

Surveys show that numbers of African Penguins breeding in the Western Cape Province has decreased by approximately 70 percent in the past four years to their lowest recorded level, he said.

"Launching the NPOA-Seabirds at the opening of the ACAP meeting is particularly significant as it demonstrates South Africa's continued commitment to conservation and management of seabirds in a sustainable and responsible manner", Dr Augustyn said.

Since the 1990s there has been global concern about the by-catch of seabirds in fishing operations, in particular the long-line and trawl fisheries.

The incidental mortality of these species has been widely held responsible for the declining populations and threatened conservation status of several species.

Recent seabird by-catch evaluations indicate that a total of 18 000 birds are estimated to be killed per year.

Seabirds have an economic value in terms of non-consumptive eco-tourism activities, the department said.

These birds breed on land and their populations can therefore be accurately monitored, said Dr Augustyn.

The Marine Living Resources Act (Act No 18 of 1998) guides the utilisation of marine resources which explicitly endorses the concept of ecological sustainable development and recognises the need to protect the ecosystem as a whole.

"South Africa is committed to applying the eco-system approach in the management of its fisheries and has taken concrete steps towards implementing this approach following the Johannesburg Summit of 2002," he concluded. - BuaNews

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