Prince Charles Joins Race to Save the Albatross

LONDON, UK, November 7, 2006 (ENS) - On the eve of a TV movie premiere highlighting the plight of the albatross, Britain's Prince Charles said failure to save the Earth's largest flying sea birds from extinction would be "an appalling commentary on the way we treat the world." The Prince called upon food retailers to take the lead.

Tens of thousands of albatross drown each year in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica after becoming caught on longline fishing hooks. Vessels use lines up to 120 kilometers (75 miles) long, each with thousands of baited hooks, to catch tuna, swordfish and the threatened Patagonian toothfish, called sea bass on North American menus.

Retailers and big stores "can make a huge difference by deciding that they are going to obtain their fish only from certified stocks,” said the Prince of Wales, who hosted a reception in London today for the film, "Race to the Save the Albatross."

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Charles, Prince of Wales (Photo courtesy GOLR)
"I feel it our duty to ensure that we do not lose any species if we possibly can help it," he told the program, produced by London based Television Trust for the Environment and due to air on BBC World this weekend.

"Think of the way in which we treat our world, and the way we treat our oceans, and the way we exploit the fish stocks in particular," said the Prince. "It would be such an appalling commentary on the way we treat the world.”

The film is part of TVE's new series of "Earth Report," the longest running environment show on global television. First broadcast on BBC World, "Earth Report" reaches 150 million viewers in more than 140 countries.

"Race to the Save the Albatross" was filmed in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, RSPB, the United Kingdom partner of BirdLife International, which runs the Albatross Task Force.

With funds from the RSPB, the task force works with fishermen aboard vessels to promote simple, cost effective ways to cut the number of albatrosses killed by long-line fishing boats. These include setting lines at night as albatross are only active during daylight, weighting lines so they sink quickly, and using streamer lines to scare the birds away.

In his commentary, Prince Charles applauds conservationists' efforts.

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A pair of black-browed albatross on the Falkland Islands. Albatross pairs mate for life. (Photo courtesy ITT)
“One of the things that I think is very impressive is the work being done by the Albatross Task Force. These mitigation measures have been shown to reduce the damage to albatrosses to almost zero," he said. "The challenge is to get the message across that these mitigation measures should be used at all times in all these fishing areas.”

The international body for fisheries management around Antarctica recently reported that no albatross had been killed in this year’s regulated long-line fishery.

Graham Wynne, the RSPB’s chief executive, said the announcement by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR, was "a remarkable achievement given that 10 years ago several thousand were killed."

"If other regions incorporated these measures today," he said, "the slaughter would stop tomorrow.”

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Fishing vessel rigged for long-lining. (Photo courtesy Permit Master)
Twenty-three nations belong to CCAMLR but that has not stopped illegal fishing by companies within those countries and elsewhere from registering vessels under flags of convenience to avoid domestic and international restrictions on their fishing activities.

RSPB and BirdLife International estimate 100,000 albatross drown each year after becoming caught on longline fishing hooks baited with squid and fish. The baited hooks are cast from the vessel and sink beneath the surface. The birds dive for the bait and swallow it, hook and all, and are pulled underwater and drowned.

Between 50 and 100 million hooks are set in the Southern Ocean each year. The sheer scale of such fishing - much of it unregulated - across such a vast region is what both challenges conservationists and threatens the species.

Albatross are the largest flying sea birds in the world, with a wingspan of up to 3.5 meters (11 feet), and live for up to 85 years, mating for life. Of the 21 species of albatross, 19 are classified as being under threat of extinction, according to BirdLife International.

BirdLife International estimates that the population of black-browed albatross on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia declining by about three to four percent each year.

"There are many of these species that are declining at a rate that is clearly unsustainable," said BirdLife's Dr. Ben Sullivan.

Working with fishermen is the key to saving the birds, said Sullivan, and the film can help.

“The international legislation we are building to save the albatross will only work if it filters down to effective action on the fishing deck, and this film is a huge boost to spreading that grassroots awareness. We already have five Albatross Task Force experts, funded by the RSPB, making a real difference in South Africa and Brazil, and we will shortly be up and running in Chile too.”