Salvin's albatross rel=
Salvin's albatross. Now classified by the IUCN at vulnerable to extinction.
© (C) / WWF-New Zealand

An albatross legacy

A true ‘hot spot’ for albatrosses, nearly half of the world’s 22 albatross species breed in New Zealand and many of those breed nowhere else.

But many albatross species are in trouble and need our help.  In fact, 15 species are listed as vulnerable,  endangered or critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List, the International Union for Conservation list of threatened species.

Commercial fishing practices are considered the greatest threat to the survival of many albatross species. Other threats include loss of habitat, introduced predators, eating or becoming tangled up in plastic, oil spills and climate change.

Albatrosses on the line

Keen predators, albatrosses mainly feed on squid, crustaceans and fish. Often they can be seen near fishing vessels looking for a deceptively easy meal. Unfortunately these meals can turn deadly. Sometimes albatrosses and other seabirds are caught on baited hooks of longlines, strike the large cables or get caught in nets on trawl vessels and are injured or killed.

Scientists and conservationists have long sounded warnings about the sheer number of albatrosses caught in fishing operations. Actual numbers are extremely difficult to calculate, as albatrosses spend most of their lives at sea. What is known, however, is that some populations are in serious decline. Species that breed in New Zealand and are known to have decreasing populations include the Antipodean albatross, the northern royal albatross, light-mantled albatross, and grey-headed albatross.

Internationally, much of the fishing which is killing albatrosses is illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU).  Learn more about IUU.

In some New Zealand fisheries mandatory seabird mitigation measures are in place and some fisheries have voluntary codes of practice in place to good effect. Since 1996 fishers have been legally obliged to report all seabird bycatch. The difference between numbers reported with and without observer coverage suggests this reporting is not as accurate as it should be.

What is needed immediately in New Zealand is a consistent approach to observer coverage and the implementation of seabird-safe fishing practices and mitigation devices in all fisheries where seabird bycatch is a concern. 

Spanish language factsheets give South American fishers valuable info on seabird-safe fishing practices. The materials are a joint effort between Southern Seabird Solutions Trust and Pro Delphinus, with support from WWF-New Zealand.
© Pro Delphinus

What is WWF doing to protect albatrosses?

WWF is working to raise awareness, in government and the fishing industry, of the links between fishing and albatross deaths. In some fisheries there have been significant advances in reducing albatross and other seabird mortalities, but in other fisheries there are still major issues with non-compliance, lack of understanding about the issue, and ineffective or faulty equipment and techniques.

For this reason we are calling on the New Zealand government to:
•    Increase observer coverage on fishing vessels in New Zealand's EEZ.
•    Fund more research into the causes of albatross and other seabird declines.
•    Make seabird-safe fishing practices are compulsory across the fishing industry.
•    Put international pressure on other countries to refuse to land illegally caught fish.

Working in partnership

To save our albatrosses we all need to work together. That’s why WWF is involved in a number of educational projects and works with other organisations to encourage seabird-safe fishing practices.

WWF was a founding member of Southern Seabird Solutions Trust – an innovative alliance that includes representatives from the seafood industry, environmental groups, the government and Maori organisations who take a cooperative approach to seabird conservation.

Internationally WWF is also engaged in a number of initiatives to address seabird conservation, including the international Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP). The aim of ACAP is to restore the listed species of albatrosses and petrels – which are amongst the most endangered group of species in the world – to a favourable conservation status. Since its inception, New Zealand has been a key player in the work of this agreement.

Albatross facts

•    Nearly half of the 22 albatross species breed in New Zealand. Seven of those breed nowhere else.
•    Of the 10 albatross species that breed in New Zealand, one is listed critically endangered (Chatham albatross) and one is listed as endangered (northern royal albatross). Five are listed as vulnerable. 
•    The Chatham albatross breeds only on one rock stack –The Pyramid – in the Chatham Islands. When not breeding, their range extends across the south Pacific Ocean with many spending their winters in the waters off of Chile and Peru where they are at risk in the coastal longline fisheries.
•    White-capped albatross often forage near fishing vessels and are vulnerable to being killed in commercial fisheries. In the 2006/2007 fishing season, over 70 white-capped albatross were killed and returned for autopsy in New Zealand, making it the second most numerous seabird species returned that year.
•    Southern royal albatross are amongst the largest of all albatross. The southern royal albatross has a wingspan of 3.3 metres and flies an estimated 190,000 kilometres each year. It is caught by Japanese longliners in the high seas and small numbers are killed in longline fisheries in New Zealand waters and off south-western Australia and Tasmania.