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New bird-friendly fishing gear lands big fish

Cape Town, 20 July. Seventeen of the world’s 22 albatross species are threatened with extinction, with longline fishing responsible for much of the problem. BirdLife International in collaboration with Fishtek (UK) is trialling a new type of safe fishing weights in South Africa, designed to sink baited hooks quickly and reduce seabird bycatch, while also being safe for fishermen to use. A hook with a ‘Safe Lead’ recently caught a fish that sold for $7000!


A single tuna longline vessel can set more than 100 km of line, with 3000 hooks per day. Seabirds, especially albatrosses and petrels, are attracted to the baited hooks, but die in unsustainably high numbers as they get hooked when the baited hooks leave the vessel, and before they sink to their target depth. BirdLife International has been at the forefront of attempts to reduce the incidental capture and death of albatrosses in longline fishing. In 2006 they established the Albatross Task Force, and BirdLife South Africa hosts the first team to have been established.


“The science of avoiding seabird bycatch has evolved to the point where we know what needs to be done. BirdLife promotes a suite of safe, simple and effective measures” said Dr Ross Wanless, Seabird Division Manager for BirdLife South Africa. “The trouble is that fishermen are reluctant to use new measures until they’ve been proven to have little or no impact on their fishing profitability” he continued. BirdLife has been trialling an ingenious new device, called the Safe Lead, to demonstrate that not catching seabirds is not only good for the environment, but it’s also good business. With assistance from Rob Giddey, a South African tuna rights holder and owner of several longline vessels, they’ve been attaching Safe Leads of different weights. “The aim of the experiment is to see if heavy weights, which are better for reducing seabird bycatch, have any effect on numbers and size of fish caught” said Mr Tshikana Rasehlomi, Albatross Task Force instructor, who is conducting the experiment.


When they were fishing last week off the KwaZulu-Natal coast, during stormy weather, Tshikana noticed that only the hooks with heavy weights were catching fish. “Fishermen know that when there’s a storm, the fish dive deep and they don’t catch much. The heavy Safe Leads appear to be changing that – which is good news!” said Tshikana. The stormy weather produced a rather big surprise for Tshikana, and absolute delight for the fishermen. A hook with a heavy Safe Lead caught a 120 kg big-eye tuna. As soon as they landed it, the big fish was flown to an auction in the Far East, where it was the highest-priced fish on the day, netting an incredible $7000.


Dr Ben Sullivan, Coordinator of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme, and the driving force behind the development of the Safe Leads, expressed his delight. “This is exactly the sort of result we’ve hoped for. Although there’s still more work to be done, and one fish doesn’t change a fisherman’s attitude, the results of the experiment so far could not be better. We’re confident that heavy Safe Leads will help BirdLife and fishermen to solve the seabird bycatch problem” he said.




For further information, please contact: Dr Ross Wanless, +27 (0)21 419 7347 (office), +27 73 6753267 (mobile) or email:

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