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 am back on land now. The 'Saxon' docked in Cape Town Harbour on Sunday afternoon.
The next day, I came back to the harbour where they were offloading their catch to deliver the tori line I promised them and also give them some T-shirts. These shirts cry in big red letters 'SAVE THE ALBATROSS' which I think makes good publicity for us, especially when they're worn by the fishermen themselves. They do love these shirts...
I can honestly say the trip was successful. We didn't catch a single bird while another longliner who was fishing close to us caught three albatrosses. Talking to the skipper, he said he has used a tori line but weather conditions reduced its efficiency. This boat is my next target and hopefully I'll be joining them in April.
The crew of the 'Saxon' promised to keep me informed of their bycatch in the next trips as they have been doing for the last year and also report me the if the new tori line works.
Let's hope it does...
I have decided this time to write my diary 'live' from sea. At the moment I am on my seventh day onboard the 'Saxon', a South African tuna and swordfish longliner which agreed to carry me onboard for the second time (first trip was last May). We are enjoying very moody weather which constantly changes.
I guess being not far from the Roaring Forties (37-38 south, about 180 miles off the south coast) does have its implications.
The good news is that after six fishing days, no birds were caught. The birds are around and on the first day, to my delight I have managed to spot six species of albatrosses in one day. There were black browed, Atlantic yellow nosed, shy and the three exciting ones - sooty (two), wandering (three) and northern royal (one). What an amazing kick-off for the trip!
As it is summer here, the variety of birds is phenomenal. Northern birds such as European storm-petrel, Cory's shearwater and long-tailed, Arctic and pomarine skuas mingle with 'local' southern birds such as black-bellied, white-bellied and Wilson's storm-petrels, flesh-footed shearwater, white-chinned petrel and the rare and elusive spectacled petrel (which is following us for the last two days). All these are attracted to the rich Cape waters.
So as you can imagine, the party is on and the list is big! But, of course there is work to be done and in a couple of minutes, I will go downstairs and deploy the TDR (Temperature and Depth Recorder) on the line to study the line sinking rate which affects the seabird bycatch.
It was very interesting to show Koos, the skipper, my results from the last trip. I could show him that the line was sinking in such a rate that if the bird-scaring line (tori line) will be efficient (i.e. will stop the birds from reaching the bait 150 m behind the boat), it will be almost too deep for petrels to take. So all you have to do is make sure the tori works.
It is really great to be able to share all this 'live'. These trips teach us so much and I will definitely share with you the results of this trip when I'm back.
Meidad and the crew of 'Saxon'
Peter Exley, from the RSPB, had chosen to come to Cape Town for his sabbatical. He is helping me to produce an awareness brochure on conserving seabirds in the South African hake trawl fishery.
Meeting him at the airport, it was clear after several minutes of chat that he was as keen as mustard to get to sea and experience life on board a trawler and 'grip' the iconic albatross.
Barrie Rose (Irvin & Johnson) organized us a cabin on board the wet-fish vessel Aloe and the evening of 24 January saw us steaming out of Cape Town harbour and through a flock of 1,400 Sabine's gulls and a 'lifer' for Peter - a sooty shearwater.
I was continuing my work on getting tori lines to work really well. The first four days of the trip were pretty boring with kelp gulls dominating the attending birds and the true potential of the tori line was not demonstrated.
The skipper, Randy Newman, explained to Peter what all the screen monitors on the bridge were for and that the net opening was some 120 m wide, with a 2-3 m mouth opening. Emanuel, the cook, served up fresh hake and curries and we witnessed a large fleet of tuna pole vessels in the area. Albatrosses were pretty scarce and Peter gave me a tall order - to find him a wandering albatross.
On the fifth day, we moved further south and bird numbers changed dramatically. No more kelp gulls. Shy albatrosses (600) and only 25 black-broweds, 1,300 white-chinned petrels and similar numbers of sooty shearwaters were typical counts in the 200 m zone astern.
There was a small irruption of European storm-petrels and one landed on the aft deck. We photographed it and released it unharmed. These birds weigh 30 g or equivalent to the weight of a packet of crisps, as Peter put it so neatly.
Despite higher numbers of birds, interactions with the warps were minimal, due to the deployment of tori lines. These tori lines really are efficient and Emanuel was by now genuinely interested in our work, and requested seabird identification brochures for the crew mess room.
The sixth and last day was stressful for Peter as no wanderer had, or was, sighted. I did manage, however, to show him a couple of uncommon species in flesh-footed shearwater and the unmistakable spectacled petrel.
Enjoy your wandering back home Pete and next time you're over here, I shall greet you with a placard saying 'Aloe! Aloe!'