Thousands of albatrosses die needlessly every year as the victims of longling fishing. They are attracted to the baited hooks, get caught and are dragged under the water and drown.
Fishermen are often unaware of the simple, cost effective techniques that when used rapidly reduce albatross deaths.
In 2005, along with a number of our BirdLife International partners, the Albatross Task Force was formed. These men and women are the world's first international team of skilled, at-sea instructors.
Since their formation, there have been a dramatic reduction in the numbers of albatross and other seabirds killed. This is a sure sign that Albatross Task Force members really are getting something practical done to help save albatrosses from extinction.
This blog follows the trials and tribulations of the Albatross Task Force as they work onshore and at sea, spreading the message about these life-saving techniques.
I just got back from a trip on a South African longliner that targets swordfish and tuna. The trip was two and a half weeks long and took place off the west coast of South Africa.
Five albatrosses were accidentally caught on the longline. Four of them were dead, as they were caught while the vessel was putting out the baited line and will have drowned as the hooks sank.
The other was an Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross that was hooked in his wing during the hauling in of the line and this one was released alive. We also caught and released a leatherback turtle and a female Cape fur seal.
We tried two different Tori lines (streamers) and together with the crew came up with some ideas of how to reduce the bird catch, especially on the full moon nights (the period when all the dead birds were caught).
We also looked at how to prevent the Tori from getting entangled with the longline, which is the main problem for these fishermen. Two of the birds were caught the same day the Tori broke (only a couple of hours later), which shows how effective these streamers can be.
The crew was very helpful and I even appointed the Chief Engineer as a 'Bird Officer'! He will keep me informed on the bird bycatch on their next trips and bring me samples of any albatross that are accidentally caught.
I hope that now the crew has some new ideas and techniques, future trips will not catch so many albatrosses.
We have 75 confirmed attendees for the hake longline workshop this week, which includes boat owners, skippers, crew and representatives from Marine and Coastal Management. I’m looking forward to building a relationship with this group.
Currently, this type of longline sinks very slowly, and the workshop will present a number of options for increasing the speed the bait sinks beyond the reach of albatrosses, without impacting on the number of hake fish caught. There is a delicate balance to be struck here, and this is why it is so important to work with the fisheries, to be certain that we understand their needs, as they understand ours.
I’ve also been running a series of workshops for scientific observers. These much-needed observers will spend time at-sea, collecting data from fisheries and recording bycatch. A high percentage of bycatch around the world goes unrecorded, and scientists therefore use the best available data from observers and fleets that do report, to estimate the world’s total seabird bycatch. More observer data will therefore enable scientists to estimate bycatch more accurately in the future.
So, that’s my latest - and I even found time for a quick trip to Namibia, where fishermen are interested in learning more about albatross-friendly techniques. Never a dull moment!
I'm out at sea on a tuna longliner, where we will test streamer lines and different ways to get the lines and bait to sink faster, beyond the reach of the albatrosses.
I'll also be monitoring and counting which types of seabirds are following the boat as they fish.
I will be back in the next week or so and will update my diary with new photos and information about this trip.