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.
Every year thousands of
seabirds are accidentally killed when they are caught in fishing gear. One of
the simplest solutions that are effective in reducing seabird bycatch is the
bird scaring line (BSL) or tori line
(‘bird’ in Japanese). BSLs are simply ropes with streamers that fly behind
fishing vessels and scare the birds away from the danger areas (basically a
In South Africa we have a small
team of disabled men and woman living and working in the coastal town of Ocean
View in Cape Town, who work hard to ensure there is a constant supply of BSLs
(at the Ocean View Centre for persons with disabilities). They have been
building these lines since 2006, through a collaborative effort between
BirdLife South Africa’s Albatross Task Force and the World Wide Fund for Nature’s
(WWFs) Sustainable Fisheries Programme, with our newest sponsorship provided by
TOTAL South Africa. The financial sponsorship provided by TOTAL SA is used to
buy the materials for the lines. The Centre constructs the lines and sells them
at a very low cost to create a small income. Since 2006, hundreds of lines have
been sold to fishermen. This year alone we have distributed 12 trawl and 4
longline BSLs to our local fisheries.
As the specifications of the
BSLs change annually, with improvements to the design, the team has to adjust
to these changes. Sometimes these changes are in materials (e.g. lighter ropes
for increased aerial extent), while other times it may be in the construction
design. The team is often able to suggest better ways of constructing the
lines, having worked with them for many years.
We are very proud to work with
this dedicated group, who are able to build one line in just over an hour,
contributing to the conservation of our seabirds in their own special way!
After a long wait my voyage on a
demersal (bottom) longline vessel finally set out for a trip that will last over three weeks,
sailing from the port of Ushuaia. I was delighted to
find that this boat is very comfortable, with
internet, LCD TVs and even a gym! Not something you find on most
ATF trips! More over I found that I would enjoy good food, heating and a
comfortable bed. These
conditions really help you with the motivation to work during long sea-trips,
and predispose you to perform all tasks at a high standard. We are currently fishing
Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) to the east of Staten Island.
However, a few days ago we were 150
miles off Cape Horn, this is far to the south of Tierra del Fuego and everyone had
previously mentioned that it is an area of high winds ... and now I can confirm
it! They were
absolutely right ... we spent two days without a moments sleep because the boat
was rolling and pitching like a cork in a bucket. The waves were
enormous and the winds were incredible, like I had never seen before! Like any storm, it
soon passed and today the sea is like a mirror!
My job here is testing out a tori
line design for longline vessels. Over the
first days of the trip I became familiar with the ship, with the operation,
trying to observe every detail of the procedures onboard. This is important to ensure that
any mitigation can fit into existing fishing operations and daily crew routines.
The first days testing were not very
positive, I had to do a lot of heavy work to get the 150 meter tori line, the buoy
and a weight that generate tension deployed and retrieved. You have to get the
captain to slow the ship down at the right times or it can be hard going on the
arms! The ship has a
hoist for the task which we used initially but it needed reinforcing. On one occasion,
a huge wave knocked me against the deck and damaged my fingers and arm which required
treatment from the ships doctor!
I cracked on with the tests
though and with the help of the officers and the ship's captain soon had the
tori line working well. We used a hydraulic winch, which improved the speed and
efficiency of the routine.
Part of our work is also to share knowledge
with fishers and sailors, an often important exchange of ideas. Some people on
board have many years experience working at sea and especially crews
that have experience working in Antarctic waters under strict CCAMLR bycatch
It is fundamental to maintain good relationships onboard,
and generate participation in the tori line tests. This helps give the captain and crew a sense of ownership
of the mitigation measures and makes it more likely to be used when ATF staff
are not onboard with them.
With respect to the seabirds, I’ve
been able to observe many of the great albatrosses, the Wandering albatross
(Diomedea exulans) and Southern Royal albatross (Diomedea epomophora), with their
wingspans of 3.5 m. I also saw
many juvenile Wandering albatross with their striking brown plumage with flecks
of white. We have been visited by some other marine giants, but ones without feathers
- we saw Orcas (Orcinus orca) and sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus)! I feel like I am part
of a documentary again, back at-sea with the amazing animals of the open ocean...