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The Prince of Wales Urges Governments to Back International Albatross Conservation Deal

Bonn/Nairobi, 18 September 2002 - A campaign to save albatrosses and petrels from becoming entangled and killed on fishing hooks will be given a boost today when the Prince of Wales issues a plea to nations attending an international wildlife conference to back a key treaty designed to protect them.

The Prince will tell delegates at a conference on the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) that the next key step to protecting the birds from the long line fisheries world-wide is to ratify the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels so it can come into force. Experts estimate that such fisheries, which are setting millions of hooks globally each year, could be killing more than 300,000 albatrosses annually.

The number of petrels, a kind of small albatross, being killed by " long liners" is unknown but is believed to be substantial too. Low cost solutions exist to reduce, and in some cases eradicate, the risks of these sea birds grabbing bait and drowning on the lines which the agreement would promote. So far just two countries- Australia and New Zealand- have ratified the agreement.

The Prince will urge others to follow suit so that the necessary five nations, needed to bring it into force, can be on board soon. Prince Charles, in his welcoming address, says: " I have taken particular note of the recent development, under the leadership of the governments of Australia and South Africa, of an Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. These sea-wanderers have developed their astounding powers of navigation over millions of years, but are now threatened by man-in particular, by use and abandonment of non-selective fishing gear and by incidental mortality as a result of commercial fishing activities".

His Royal Highness calls on "the world community, and especially the governments of the Range States and those with relevant fishing fleets, with the help of international organizations, to ratify the Agreement and to get working so as to reduce as soon as possible the factors which have brought these splendid birds to the brink of extinction".

His plea has been welcomed by Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which, supports the migratory species convention. He said:" Over the past decade or so, the threats to albatrosses and other sea birds from long liners has become an increasing source of concern. The populations of many of the 24 species of albatross now recognised have been declining. And some species, such as the Amsterdam Island Albatross, is down to just 90 individuals. Much of the focus has been on the Southern Oceans where there has been a sharp increase in long lining to catch the Patagonian toothfish. Indeed there is now concern that toothfish stocks are being over-fished as a result. However this is not just confined to the southern seas. There are also long liners operating in other areas such as the North Pacific, so this is a truly international issue that concerns many governments". "Clearly, we are dealing with another example of unsustainable fishing practices which must be tackled as a matter of urgency. I heartily welcome the Prince's intervention and back him in his plea to nations to swiftly ratify the CMS agreement, " said Mr Toepfer.

Arnulf Mueller-Helmbrecht, head of the CMS secretariat, said: " We are delighted that eight countries have so far signed the Agreement and that two have ratified. I would hope that other countries meeting here this week will give strong signals that they also intend to ratify, so that the Agreement can come into force in early 2003. It is also vital that those countries with long line fishing fleets take this Agreement seriously too". He added that similar Agreements, covering seals in the Wadden Sea, small cetaceans in the Baltic and North seas and whales in the Mediterranean and Black seas, had proved invaluable in boosting the conservation prospects for other marine living animals. "I have every confidence that the Agreement on Albatrosses and Petrels will not only come into force, but prove a turning point in the fortunes of these wonderful and charismatic birds, " said Mr Mueller-Helmbrecht.

BirdLife International, an international coalition of national conservation groups based in Cambridge, UK, which has launched a Save the Albatross campaign, estimates that in 1994 one third of all albatross species were threatened with extinction. By 2000, this had risen to two thirds. John O'Sullivan, who is representing that organization at the six-day CMS conference taking place in Bonn, Germany, described the problems and solutions in more detail:" The fishing lines, carrying thousands of baited hooks, can be up to 130 kilometers long. After being fired from the ship, they float on the surface. Sea birds, scavenging behind the boats, can take the bait from the hooks and be dragged underwater as the lines sink".

Solutions include using defrosted bait, which means the lines sink faster, to firing the lines at night when most of the birds are resting rather than feeding. Inexpensive modifications can also be to the boat so that the lines are fired directly underwater though special tubes. Barry Baker, Australia's scientific counselor to the CMS, said having five nations ratifying the agreement was just the start. He said there were around 15 countries that can be classed as range states, nations were albatrosses and petrels can be found. In addition, there are many more countries who have fleets operating in waters where the sea birds can be found. Mr Baker said the agreement would not just tackle the impact of insensitive long lining techniques. But also, by forging regional cooperation, deal with other threats to the birds and their habitats including pollution and plastics, dumped by ships and industry, which albatrosses and petrels can ingest and choke upon.


Notes to Editors: The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals came into being as a result of UNEP, the World Conservation Union and the Federal Republic of Germany. Its seventh Conference of the Parties will run from 18 September to 24 September 2002. It is being held at the at the International Conference Centre Parliament Buildings, Bonn (IKBB), Görresstrasse 3, 53113 Bonn. Proposals covering some 36 migratory species will be discussed.

For More Information and a Full Copy of the Prince's Speech Please Contact: Eric Falt, UNEP Spokesperson/Director of the Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 2 623292, E-Mail: eric.falt@unep.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, E-Mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Or go to www.unep.org In Bonn, Veronika Lenarz, Information Assistant, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), on Tel: 49 228 815 2409, E-Mail: vlenarz@cms.unep.de

UNEP News Release 2002/66

Wednesday 18 Sep 2002
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