The Albatross and the Fish by Robin Doughty and Virginia Carmichael. Published by University of Texas Press, Austin and released in November 2011.
Firstly, I’d just like to say that this is not a critical review. The authors have far more expertise than this reviewer and my personal view is that anyone that undertakes a book on the welfare of – and threats to – seabirds deserves all the support they can get.
The Albatross and the Fish is the first book that I have seen that solely concerns albatross conservation. It is not a book on albatrosses (such as Albatrosses by Terrence Lindsay), nor is it a guide, it is simply about the conservation of albatrosses. Along the way, it touches on ocean and fish conservation, but only as far as its impact on albatrosses. Whilst some may consider that this subject is a somewhat narrow focus for a book, it is clear from this informative text that there is much to be said on the topic.
The book begins with a narrative of the largely devastating – for the albatross – impact of human activities and resultant population decline. It then moves on to discuss albatrosses themselves, the species, the current population status and the early research that identified commercial fishing’s culpability for the continuing decline of albatrosses after the earlier threats had eased. It also brings to the reader’s attention the threats faced by albatrosses on their breeding islands by introduced species, but concentrates on the consequences of globalised fishing fleets, as they are the primary threat to the survival of the albatross.
The responsibilities and actions of regional fishery management organisations, government and non-government organisations (NGO’s) are also discussed in great detail. The introduction of Treaties, such as the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrel’s (ACAP) and the effectiveness of such Treaties, is also scrutinised. Consideration is also given to the role and effectiveness of various national governmental plans and legislation to conserve seabirds in national waters. There are chapters on NGO’s and their actions in bringing the decline of albatrosses to the public (and therefore government) attention. There is even a chapter on celebrities and their support of albatross protection.
The authors attempt to finish the book on a positive note – the final chapter is called “Hope”. There is little, in this reviewers opinion however, which brings hope to the reader with respect to the plight of the albatross. The authors begin this chapter with the statement that it is unlikely that all species of albatrosses will survive and this sets the tone of the conclusion. The difficulties facing the albatross are laid bare, with the authors believing that the best hope the albatross has lies not with the fishing industry or government, but the NGO sector and influencing consumer awareness with regard to the fish they purchase by promoting ethical choices.
The authors have certainly spared no effort in the research for this book, receiving input from many notable sources. His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales contributed the books Foreword and John Croxall, the prominent British seabird researcher and activist, wrote the introduction. Other sources contributing to the book include a who’s who of seabird scientists and researchers. For instance, Lance Tickell, Henri Weimerskirch, Rosemary Gale, Hiroshi Hasegawa and Chris Robertson, along with SOSSA members Lindsay Smith, Mike Double, Peter Milburn and Harry Battam are all acknowledged for their assistance.
This reviewer has a number of minor issues with the book, as there are a few errors. Despite what the book states, the largest Thalassarche are not “the Black-browed and Yellow-nosed”. Another issue is the lack of photographs. The books mentions that most people will not have the opportunity to see an albatross, yet only publishes 13 colour photos, then repeats them in black and white in the text. The book is trying to change attitudes and this should mean showing people what they will lose. In this case, photos speak louder than words, so as many photos as possible should have been included.
Overall, the book is definitely recommended, although it makes for a depressing read. It is well written, extensively researched and comprehensive in its approach to the issue of albatross conservation.
The Albatross and the Fish is available from The University of Texas Press and other booksellers, including The Book Depository.