There have been some remarkable highlights recently with the second Instructors Workshop held in Piriapolis, Uruguay being one of them. That was an inspiring week, but there were some tense moments beforehand as our visas were only granted three days before we had to fly out of Walvis Bay. Cutting it a bit fine! Thanks to the Uruguayan team for organising such a wonderful event. Check out the pictures on the Albatross Task Force Facebook page.

More recently Global Seabird Programme Coordinator, Ben Sullivan paid our project a visit in June and we had some productive meetings at high level within the Ministry of Fisheries. Once again the Ministry showed willingness to support our work.

Shortly after Ben's visit I facilitated a workshop with key fisheries scientists and section heads to finalise a draft of the Namibian National Plan of Action – Seabirds for presentation to the minister. Watch this space for updates! This document is the roadmap for seabird bycatch mitigation in Namibia and will pave the way for legislation to reduce incidental seabird bycatch.

My work up to now has been on demersal (sea-floor) trawlers where we conducted successful trials showing the Namibian fleet the effectiveness of tori lines at preventing bird interactions with fishing gear. The results of this work are being analysed and written up for publication and will hopefully form the basis for developing best practice mitigation guidelines for the Namibian Hake trawl fishery.

The Ministry of Fisheries have had a consultant draft a management plan for Hake, the backbone of the local fishing industry, and we provided input on bycatch issues. Through this consultation we were able to include bycatch as a concern in this fishery and stipulate recommendations for relevant mitigation measures to become mandatory aboard trawlers and longliners.

Less positive news is that after a successful time with the ATF, my colleague in Namibia, Kaspar Shimooshili, has left the project to study for a master’s degree. His departure is a blow to the project, but we all wish him well with his studies and it was great working with him.

Kaspar’s move to new studies has left a gap in the Namibian ATF and the research he was working on. As this fishery potentially has the highest impact on seabirds it is one of our priorities and as such I have continued with the longline work until we can find a replacement for Kaspar – big boots to fill!

Consequently I have just returned from my first trip aboard a demersal longline vessel. It was an amazing experience, completely different to working on the trawl vessels I am used to. The tori line trials I conducted were successful with no birds being caught while mitigation was deployed.

I also used Time Depth Recorders on hooks to obtain a sink profile of how the fishing gear behaves during the setting operation. The preliminary results suggest that line weighting needs to be improved to increase the sink rate. A slow sink rate means baited hooks remain close to the surface and available to foraging birds for longer, increasing the risk of bycatch.

Effective line weighting is a recognised best practice mitigation measure in other countries and will no doubt make a big difference here as well.

The seven day trip started with calm seas and sunny weather. This changed to overcast and colder conditions to choppy seas to a howling gale and five meter swells for the last two days.

Apart from lots of wonderful albatrosses and petrels foraging around the vessel I also saw three pods of Long-finned Pilot whales, at least two Humpback whales and a pod of what was possibly oceanic Bottle-nosed dolphins.

There is just so much going on out at sea and working on the fishing vessels affords us the privilege of glimpsing this world. The highlight of the trip was, however, when I was packing up the tori line and the ship’s boson asked if they could keep it. I asked if they would use it and his response was that he had seen it worked well in keeping birds away and did not interfere with the lines. He said he was keen to use it. Of course I gladly left the tori line with him.