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.
The South African Albatross Task Force team, together with an observer agency (CapFish) and government representatives, conduct briefings with the fishing masters of the Asian longline fleet. This year was the same as other years and we managed to conduct briefings for all fishing masters of the 11 Asian longline fishing vessels that operate in our waters.
The briefings are interactive and are generally one and half hours long. We use this opportunity to reiterate and emphasise seabird mitigation regulations that are in place in the South African pelagic longline permit conditions. We also use this time to interpret any new permit conditions regarding seabird mitigation. The briefings usually involve oral and visual presentations of our research work and we use this opportunity to demonstrate some of our research findings in relation to permit conditions.
This year was an interesting one for seabird conservation in terms of permit conditions. The South African government has granted rights to one research fishing vessel to fish into the first few hours of the morning daylight – fishing in daylight is not normally permitted as albatrosses are visual foragers and are much more likely to be killed after daybreak.
Therefore, to mitigate potential seabird mortality, the government has requested that the vessel flies two bird scaring lines and use line weighting at all times. Moreover, this vessel is expected to have 100% observer coverage.
The best news for us was that the skipper of this fishing vessel is experienced and has worked with Ed Melvin (of Washington Sea Grants) during his work which involved testing line weighting regimes and bird scaring lines within South African waters. As such the captain is well-informed of the seabird mitigation measures and has a personal love for seabirds.
His seabird bycatch for the last year was 0.02 birds per 1000 hooks (less than the 0.05 birds/1000 hooks stated in the South African National Plan of Action for seabirds), despite fishing in areas of high seabird aggregation. He is an inspiration to other Asian fishing masters and a true seabird champion.
As for the rest of the fishing masters, they were interested to hear about seabird mitigation measures and have indicated keenness in trying new ways of solving seabird bycatch. Some have shown some initiative by designing their own bird scaring lines using the specifications listed in the permit conditions. Generally, we had an excellent participation from the fishing masters and we hope to have improved compliance to seabird mitigation measures through their attendance at these briefing sessions.
My dream is to have zero seabird mortality in this fishery and improve the alarming conservation state of albatrosses and petrels.