Seabirds make the agenda at U.N. Fisheries Meeting

Rome, 9 March 2007 - The plight of the world's seabirds was a key agenda item at the week-long meeting of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Committee on Fisheries, ending in Rome today.

At the meeting, BirdLife - with backing from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, New Zealand and the USA - secured the Committee's support for the development of 'best-practice guidelines' for National Plans of Action to help reduce seabird bycatch.

"Seabirds, particularly albatrosses, are facing immense threats, more so than any other group of birds in the world," said Dr Ben Sullivan, BirdLife International's Global Seabird Programme Coordinator. "It's a genuinely good result that the world's fishing nations have recognised the importance of developing best practices to assist them in reducing the impact of their fisheries on seabirds."

Of the 21 albatross species, nineteen are threatened with extinction. Seabird bycatch in longline fisheries, where seabirds swallow baited hooks and drown, is a major threat to many of these species.

At the meeting, the FAO announced their support for a consultation of Member states that will become the first step toward definitive 'best-practice guidelines' for reducing seabird bycatch and halting the decline of many albatross and petrel populations.

Once agreed, the guidelines will be a valuable tool for implementing the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, helping Member states create more robust National Plans of Action that promote the use of mandatory and voluntary mitigation measures to reduce seabird bycatch. They will also give guidance to Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs), the bodies responsible for the management of high seas fisheries and highly migratory fish stocks, on more effective measures to reduce seabird bycatch in their fisheries.

"It's crucial that these measures are stringent, with clearly defined timelines and realistic bycatch targets." added Sullivan.

"The result? A greater number of environmentally-savvy fisheries with clear focus on reducing seabird deaths; a better deal for seabirds."

As well as longlining, there was support at the meeting for the guidelines to include a focus on other fishing practices that impact seabird populations, particularly from trawl fisheries, where birds are killed by colliding with tow-cables or by becoming entangled in nets.

"Hopefully the outcomes of this meeting will be a huge stride forward in our efforts to save these magnificent animals." finished Sullivan.