Ross Wanless, South African regional co-ordinator for the Global Seabird Programme reports back from a seabird bycatch workshop in South Korea, with some promising developments:

Asian longline fleets account for ~90% of the fishing effort that overlaps with albatrosses. This meant that getting an Albatross Task Force instructor to work in their fleets has long been a priority for the Global Seabird Programme.

So, when Cleo Small (senior policy officer for the Global Seabird Programme and the RSPB) and I were invited to attend a workshop in South Korea to discuss seabird bycatch and conservation measures in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), we knew the South Korean fishery was taking an important step.

Albatross by Iain B. (Flickr CC No derivative)

Cleo and I had brought two huge bags stuffed with materials for display and equipment for demonstration purposes, and we made our way through the Busan metro early on Tuesday morning to ensure we had enough setup time. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we were ushered into the venue.

TV exposure

There were huge boxes with specially-made, branded meeting bags. There were tables with staff setting up printers and registration systems. We both gasped as we entered the hall and were confronted with rows of seats formally set out, a large screen for presentations, and a massive, full-colour banner along one wall announcing the workshop details.

Dr Zang Geun Kim and the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute were taking this very seriously. More was to come, including a TV crew from the biggest network in South Korea, who included a 10-second slot about the workshop on prime time news that night!

Robust discussion

As the workshop got underway, we realised that some of the fishing skippers there didn’t fully understand what was on the cards. There was some robust discussion, including some where the simultaneous translation service was switched off so the South Korean attendees could discuss things amongst themselves. However, Dr Kim steered his way expertly through the meeting, and it ended with an amazing outcome.

There was general agreement that a research programme (onboard a longliner) into how South Korean vessels can adapt to the IOTC’s regulations to reduce seabird bycatch was needed. What’s more, our offer to assist in designing and implementing research was viewed as a positive thing.

Mutual benefit

This represents a seismic shift in our engagement with key Asian fishing nations, which has, until now, been mostly conversations across the table at international meetings. In a few weeks’ time we expect to hear back from the South Korean Ministry of Fisheries about their plans for working with us in 2013.