Impacts of Southern Ocean Fisheries on wandering albatross populations

Fisheries play a critical role in the conservation of many marine vertebrates, whether by bycatch, collision with vessels, or overfishing their food resource. An example of marine vertebrates that face this threat are the albatrosses. Albatrosses are seabird species that are scavenger opportunists and are attracted to fishing vessel’s discards. They have a broad range of scavenging, which puts them at risk by fisheries in national and international waters. A species affected by the threats mentioned above is the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans). The wandering albatross population in South Georgia has been declining rapidly since the 1970s.

To study the interactions between the wandering albatross and Southern Ocean fisheries, radar GPS-loggers were attached to the seabird individuals, along with information regarding the position and movements of fishing vessels. This study considered the different life stages and sex of the wandering albatross, which are usually under-researched or not considered in many studies.

The results showed that different types of gear used in fisheries make the visiting of the wandering albatross differ. The fisheries that use set (demersal) longliners had a higher likelihood of being visited by this seabird than other gear types (mainly trawlers, squid jiggers and drifting longliners).

When analysing the bycatch rate of different life stages of the wandering albatross, the results showed an increase in the visits of fishing vessels by the wandering albatross during the incubation period (Fig. 1). However, it’s important to note that if discards are not occurring this seabird won’t visit the vessel, in the case that prey is available in the surroundings.

Fig.1 – Effects of life-history stage and status on the visiting behaviour (time spent within 5 km of a vessel) of wandering albatrosses tracked from South Georgia.

In order to reduce mortality bycatch associated with fisheries of the wandering albatross and other vulnerable seabird species, it’s important to engage with the managers and operators of the main fisheries that come in contact with these species and implement best practices regarding seabird-bycatch mitigation, seabird bycatch rates and monitoring of compliance.

Source: Carneiro, A. P. B., Clark, B. L., Pearmain, E. J., Clavelle, T., Wood, A. G., & Phillips, R. A. (2022). Fine-scale associations between wandering albatrosses and fisheries in the southwest Atlantic Ocean. Biological Conservation, 276. DOI:

Author: Mariana Quitério