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've just got married and as soon as my honeymoon was over, I headed off to sea – back to the stinky boats! This trip was on a commercial trawler. This vessel was the first vessel I have seen that has stopped routinely discarding fish waste during the setting of the trawl gear, which prevents the area where the net and gear enters the water filling up with opportunistic seabirds. This was great to see, because our data showed a decrease in the number of birds in the danger area, as well as a decrease in the number of interactions of birds with the trawl cables.
Unfortunately, one bird was killed during this trip and it occurred during the one and only time that the vessel discarded during setting. An adult black-browed albatross's wing got caught on the trawl cable, pulling the bird down into the water, resulting in the bird drowning and never resurfacing.
However, it was great to see that the fishermen rebuilt the bird-scaring line during the trip, to comply with their fishing permit specifications, without being prompted by me. Later this afternoon I will be boarding another commercial trawl vessel to begin an experiment for the South African Albatross Task Force. The design of this experiment originally comes from Leandro Tamini, one of our Albatross Task Force Members in Argentina. I will be trialling a towed device at the end of the bird-scaring line. This device looks very similar to a surfboard, with a flat surface and two fins at an angle on the underside, weighted just below the water. The angle of the fins is designed to pull the bird-scaring line slightly away from the trawl cable to prevent any entanglements.
We would like to offset the bird-scaring line to try and reduce these entanglements, which can occur during strong crosswinds and currents. This will make the bird-scaring line more efficient, saving more birds hopefully, and will make life easier for the fishermen involved in handling the bird-scaring line when the trawl gear is hauled up. So far, the industry has been very supportive and keen to help with the building and testing of this new device. Results of this experiment will be available at the end of 2009 as we will continue to collect data throughout this year. So, here's wishing me luck with the first experiment out at sea!
For albatrosses there are no frontiers, and neither for the ATFDuring the Albatross Task Force's early history and until now we couldn't have a meeting to discuss the mitigation measures and the best strategies to reach the main goal which is save the seabirds. It was therefore amazing to hold a workshop in Coquimbo, Chile, and we learned a lot from this meeting. Before the workshop, several ideas were being improved by researchers on how to improve the design and the bird scaring line (toriline) efficacy. Moreover, it was pretty hard to apply such models for all the fleets around the world. Cultural and language differences became a big barrier to implement such measures.However, in 2006 the Albatross Task Force was launched, a work to be accomplished on land and at sea by experienced instructors. These professionals should help the fishermen in order to introduce the mitigation measures. Each country had developed their own tori-line over time and during the workshop in Coquimbo, we discussed several essential elements for the best effective tori-line. Several countries participated: South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador. Several experiences were presented and discussed, and Brazil and Uruguay showed a similarity between fishing gear used on pelagic longline vessels. These two delegations decided to accept the challenge to develop a better tori-line to suit both fleets. Several preliminary meetings were made in order to start the Cruises for 2009. Now we are two countries with five instructors! One of us is already at-sea to accomplish some technical tests, between two types of tori-line, the Brazilian one, and a mixed tori-line with longer streamers. Right now we are waiting for the result of this pilot cruise in order to start our research plan.
Meanwhile we are 'ficamos a ver navios' (a Portuguese expression that means we are visiting vessels) while we wait for Caio to come back from his cruise! When you have been on the high sea several times, you become like an 'addict', as we know the beauty of the sea, we cannot stop to think about this feeling as we live in two worlds, one solid and the other liquid and I'm in love with both worlds. Living in a way that I can visualize and respect the beauty that our planet gives to us!In 15 days I will be back to my liquid world, it will be fantastic and I promise that I shall write an emotional diary such this one!!! Um grande abraço a todos...
We have been operating for a year now and have a made some progress on getting a handle on what is happening in the Namibian hake trawl fishery. I have not been out to sea recently, but am hoping to rectify this soon as the office becomes tedious compared to life at-sea!2009 got off to a brilliant start with a trip to Chile where I attended the first ATF International Workshop in Coquimbo in January. This was a fantastic workshop where I met up with all my South American ATF counterparts, what a wonderful dedicated bunch of people.
The workshop was a great learning experience on our work in the international arena and was really motivating. We spent a training day at-sea looking at line sink rates on a pelagic longliner and in between the experiments I got to see some super birds including a Chatham albatross and Westland petrel. Inca tern, a bird that has been long on my wish list, was ticked early one morning at the fishing harbour. Following the workshop where we looked at seabird mitigation research I now have a research project which will keep me busy for the next 10 months. I have established links with an industry partner and hope to start at sea data gathering in the near future. I have spent some serious desk time recently sorting out budgets, year plans, data entry and assisting with the WWF Responsible Fisheries training. This is a wonderful forum for engaging with fishermen to discuss the problems around incidental seabird mortalities.
The data entry work has been interesting as it is part of testing the new ATF Database which is a really cool database application developed for our needs. I think with all teams using this we will be able to have a more standard data set across all countries.
While I have been shore bound we had a slew of albatross mortalities along the beaches around Walvis. Happily these mortalities were not fishing related, but they point towards interesting birds using our Benguela system as one of the records was of a light-mantled albatross - the first record for Namibia and only the 12th for southern Africa - and a ringed juvenile Tristan albatross. 2009 looks to be a busy and interesting year!