Birds Caught in Fishing Lines Dying by the Thousands

Photo: versageek / cc

While it's no secret that keeping up with the world's demand for seafood puts terrible strain on ocean ecosystems, it turns out that fish aren't the only species feeling the pinch from overfishing. On the heels of a recent study which found that fishing nets and hooks in the U.S. kill around 4,600 sea turtles every year off the U.S. coast alone, a new report suggests that seabirds are fairing even worse. According to researchers, the fishing industry may be responsible for inadvertently killing up to 320 thousand birds annually. And the problem is so bad, it could soon drive some bird species to extinction.At the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity this week, researchers from the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds presented the results of a study which found that fishing fleets are clearly not doing enough to minimize the deaths of seabirds. According to a report from The Guardian, fishing nets and baited lines, many of which trawl over dozens of miles of ocean, have quietly been killing hundreds of thousands of birds.

Some species, such as several endangered albatross, are thought to have been driven to near extinction due to these irresponsible fishing techniques -- though some fisheries are worse than others.

Their estimates of bird deaths range from about 160,000-320,000, with the Spanish longline fleet fishing the Gran Sol grounds off south-west Ireland potentially killing more than 50,000 birds a year (mostly shearwaters and fulmars), and the Japanese tuna fleet killing 20,000 birds a year, seriously affecting albatross populations.

Orea Anderson, policy officer for the programme and lead author of the study: "It is little wonder that so many of the affected seabird species are threatened with extinction - their slow rate of reproduction is simply incapable of compensating for losses on the scale this study has demonstrated."

Although there may be no way to ensure that birds, protected or otherwise, won't continue to be killed in fishing lines and nets, wildlife experts say that there are measures the industry can take to reduce the numbers. By making some small changes, like weighing down the nets or even just trawling at night, experts say that bird deaths could be minimized.

This, of course, is just the latest evidence which seems to indicate that our insatiable hunger for seafood is having disastrous impact on marine ecosystems which are gradually become drained of life from overfishing. The worst part of all, perhaps, is that in pursuit of feeding the estimated 1 billion people who rely on fish in their daily diets, the oceans are brought one step closer to the point where they can feed no one.

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More on Overfishing
Overfishing 101: How We're Fishing the Oceans Dry
Global Fisheries Hit by Climate Change and Overfishing
Overfishing and Trawlers Drain the Ocean of Life

Tags: Birds | Fishing | Oceans

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