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Evidence for massive bycatch in Chinese fisheries off Africa

Kees (C.J.) Camphuysen, February 13, 2013
 

In Mauritania, last month (Jan/Feb 2013), we were told that 21 containers with deep frozen seabirds have been confiscated by the national authorities. Some informers have confirmed that the seabirds were fresh, plucked and ready to be shipped abroad (to Asia?). While we try hard to get full confirmation of the incident and perhaps even access to the containers to check this out, I would be keen to know if anyone, wordlwide, is aware of similar shipments of seabirds to the Asian food markets. Any comments welcome. Kees Camphuysen kees.camphuysen@nioz.nl

Comments ( 11 )

Edward Abraham

Edward Abraham

This is pretty shocking. First that I have heard of anything like this.

Kathy Kuletz

Kathy Kuletz

Also the first I've heard of this - or anything similar. Very disheartening. How can we verify this story or get more specific information ?

Robb Kaler

Robb Kaler

I understand commercial hunting of seabirds is forbidden in most (northern?) countries, but how broadly does that apply? Other than fisheries by-catch information, I could not find anything on-line for international seabird harvest regulations.

Grant RW Humphries

Grant RW Humphries

I don't believe there is any international body that regulates the take of seabirds in international waters. It is definitely a hole that needs to be filled up apparently. This must have been happening for quite some time - it can't be an isolated incident.

Kees (C.J.) Camphuysen

Kees (C.J.) Camphuysen

Photo's have been obtained showing a couple of things: the birds were boxed up (not just loose), so at least the bird density per container must have been lower than feared at first, the boxes were (mis-)labelled "Corvina" (courbine, omber fish), and the birds were professionally cleaned. Skinned, fat is taken off, wings cut (humerus present) and legs cut at the tibia. Hence, species identification is not easy. More importantly, to clip a tibia as they did (with no splinters at all) must require specialised equipment. The corpses on the photo are almost certainly Northern Gannets. This does not look like "an accident". Thanks for replies so far; it seems a pretty unique case for as far as now seen.

Elizabeth Mitchell

Who is on the ground in Mauritania investigating this case and is the government cooperating with the team? 21 containers -that's a huge amount of birds-what is the estimate now Kees? I think it would warrant a random sample of the whole lot, because it's possible they took birds opportunistically while fishing (not just gannets). Can DNA testing be done to identify to species and what is the likelihood of that happening? What fishery were they involved in?

Kees (C.J.) Camphuysen

Kees (C.J.) Camphuysen

Ground-truthing is not easy, because the authorities don't provide ready access. We have to work via the National fisheries institute (IMROP) in Mauritania. At least we got some photo's.

From photo's it is hard to assess a species composition given the state these birds are in and the fact that they're boxed up! I would love to check all these containers, but doubt if we ever will get the opportunity.

I still have difficulty believing that all these 21 containers contain just seabirds. I reckon that some of them contain a mix of (illegal) bycatch including sharkfins and the like, but we just don't know.

There's also some good news! Disappointed with the profitability of their long-line fisheries in the region, the Chinese seem to have swapped their licence for ground-potting fisheries. Bad news for the octopus (and artisanal fishermen), perhaps good news for seabirds and charismatic megafauna off Mauritania.

Salvador Garcia

Salvador Garcia

Hi all,

Through Galician fishermen fishing in the area we know (Spanish Institute of Oceanography) that the news was reported in Mauritania TV. We do not know more about this

Amélie Lescroël

Hi - Any news about the actual content of the containers and the existence of an Asian market for seabirds? I am working on the French gannet colony of Rouzic Island, in Brittany, and after a long phase of growth, this colony has been declining for 2 years. We are currently exploring the possible causes of this decline and an increased mortality in their wintering areas is one of the hypotheses. The coasts of Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania are the wintering area of 1/3 of the Rouzic population, thus if fishing boats are harvesting seabirds there, it certainly will have an impact on the population. Moreover, Moroccan birders alerted us about a mysterious mass stranding event of gannets in late October-early November last year. Thus, we're definitely interested to know more about what's happening in this area. Thanks in advance for any information! Amélie

Salvador Garcia

Salvador Garcia

Dear Amélie,

From the IEO-Observer Program we have detected an increasing of bycatch rates of the species in the area and in the Mediterranean last winter. But the majority of birds were juveniles.

Do you know more about mass stranding event of gannets, place, date, number of birds...?

Salvador Garcia

Salvador Garcia

Dear all,

Recently it has been heard about a lot of containers full of seabirds frozen in Dakhla. Do you know anything about this?

The information comes from a reliable source

Best

Salva