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.
During the fourth week of my most recent trip we arrived at the southernmost point of the journey, just 130 km from the Isla de los Estados and the famous lighthouse at the end of the world!
As we moved slowly back north, due of low catches in the south, I started testing our trawl mitigation measures; these are designed to keep seabirds away from the danger zone between the trawl warp cables (the cables that hold the net) and the vessel. Testing them is a crucial part of our work as we can compare seabird interactions during the use of mitigation measures against normal fishing operations without these measures.
This is where the offal discards are dumped, attracting albatrosses looking for an easy meal. The problem is that as the cables cut through the water during a trawl, they can push foraging seabirds under the water, or break their wings. Simple mitigation measures can stop this occurring.
I used a tori line for this first test; 25m of rope tied to the stern with an orange buoy at the end and several pairs of orange streamers tied to the rope. These dangle down, scaring the seabirds. The first tests went well: no birds collided with the cables, whereas more than 10 heavy impacts every 30 minutes were recorded without a tori line.
However, in the strong winds of the southern seas I recognised a problem; as the tori line is at the surface, it is subject to buffeting from the wind and waves. These push the tori line in the opposite direction to the cables and they can become entangled. Entanglements can lead to a reduced effectiveness of the tori line and be problematic for the crew.
In order to avoid entanglements, I designed a device using equipment aboard the vessel. With the help of the crew and the ship’s tools, we made a kind of surfboard.
We called this prototype The surfboard. I added this to the tori line to keep it from tangling with the cables. With this simple device the toriline tended to steer away from the cables as the boat moved forward and thus reduced any potential entanglements whilst still keeping seabirds away from the danger area.
After this preliminary testing of The surfboard I found that it works! Eureka! The tori line with the surfboard was separated from the cables. We will continue testing this and refining the mitigation throughout the year, so watch this space!