Among the activities that we conduct as ATF instructors, working with the crew aboard fishing vessels is the most difficult to accurately quantify. We can identify a seabird to species or sub-species level, record the exact times of fishing operations, statistically demonstrate the efficiency of mitigation measures but working at-sea with members of the fishing crew is different. It is a deeply social aspect of our work that includes listening as much as talking, understanding as much as convincing.
As ATF instructors we spend a lot of time at the stern of the vessel, and the interaction with these people is continuous. The results are not easily palpable. How successful has our work with a fishing crew been? How can we know that we are achieving our objectives in this regard? Many times we find difficult individuals who are completely sceptical of mitigation measures but also the opposite is true. We regularly find fishers who are willing to listen, to give their opinion and to discuss ideas but above all we find people that respect the sea and its inhabitants.
This is the case of two very different members of two different vessels: Claudio and Pedro. Both occupy the post of ship’s boson, whose duties include directing fishing operations and manoeuvres on deck.
Below: Pedro works the winches on deck with his ATF Argentina cap
With over 22 years of experience on board, Claudio commented that "Many years ago there were many more albatrosses than we see today. It is clear that populations have declined." Pedro has worked at-sea for over 17 years and always wears his ATF Argentina cap on deck. He has learnt to recognise many of the species that interact with the ship and is able to precisely separate the "age class" of many birds and on calm days attracts dolphins by whistling!
During the first days of a recent trip, my colleague Nahuel was astounded by the crew’s collaboration, interest and willingness to learn. Nahuel asked Claudio what drove the interest of the crew to help save the albatross. Claudio explained with a humble look, but the firmness of a worker that: "They also have the right to live"
While we cannot easily or accurately record how the social aspect of our work with fishers, we know that thanks to the ATF there are more Pedros and Claudios. By finding more ambassadors for respecting marine life, we can move toward our main objective - more birds at sea!
Below: Claudio helps ATF instructor Nahuel with a tori line and the off-setting towed device known as the Tamini Tabla
The sub-Antarctic islands and fjords in southern Chile together form a complex geographic area with thousands of components of archipelagos and marine channels. In this region, also known as Chilean (western) Patagonia, there are important breeding sites for seabirds. Among these, two of the most important islands are Diego Ramirez and Ildefonso, which together hold over 20% of the global population of Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys.
Along the Chilean coast, seabird species overlap with different fishing activities including industrial and artisanal fisheries. In addition, this part of Patagonia supports other productive activities such as Salmon farming. One such area is the Chonos Archipelago at 45°S.
Globally, interactions between seabirds and commercial fishing activities have been well documented but little information is available regarding the impacts of the more traditional fishing practices on seabird populations. Chilean researchers have recently published a study entitled: Fishermen’s perceptions of interactions between seabirds and artisanal fisheries in the Chonos archipelago, Chilean Patagonia which can be found in the conservation journal Oryx.
Below: artisanal fishing vessel on the Chonos archipelago in Chile. Cristian Suazo.
By means of interviews with fishermen, questionnaires and field-based observations the authors determined the extent to which artisanal fisheries interact with and affect seabirds in the fjords and channels of the Chonos Archipelago. This is one of the most poorly-studied regions in Chile because of its geographic isolation and extreme weather conditions.
Fishermen demonstrated a positive perception of seabirds as useful indicators of marine productivity and in their role scavenging fish waste and discards associated with fishing operations. However, fishermen also established seasonal camps to collect seabird eggs and adults for food or bait and introduced feral predators [such as domestic dogs] to islands with seabird breeding colonies.
Minimal bycatch events were recorded due to their fishing gear characteristics, which included a fast sink rate for longlines. As a counterpart to their negative impacts, local knowledge from fishermen on marine biodiversity is critical for the future of community-based conservation of the region’s marine resources and biodiversity. Fishers also bring us a key view of past and current changes in seabird behaviour related to fisheries. They observe local and regional environmental changes from the impacts of an expanding and large-scale aquaculture activity on the distribution and abundance of seabirds along this part of Patagonia.
This study was supported by the Pacific Seabird Group through the Craig S. Harrison Conservation Grant and the Association of Field Ornithologists through the E. Alexander Bergstrom Memorial Research Award.
For a three-week period, the publication of this research can be found as online free access at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0030605311001815 (with supplementary material).
The European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) is a group of companies, which provide grants to support the environment. This year our very own Albatross Task Force has been selected as a candidate to win over £20,000 of funding in the ‘nature’ category.
The project was nominated by Páramo, who are also generously supporting the Albatross Task Force with waterproof kit which will keep our instructors warm and toasty when they are at-sea! Páramo regularly support RSPB projects - contributing every time you buy here - and saving you money too.
The nominated ATF project focuses specifically on Namibia, which is one of the world's worst 'blackspots' for seabird mortality through interactions with fishing fleets. Research indicates that about 31,000 birds are killed every year by Namibia's long-line and trawl fishing fleets, including huge numbers of albatrosses and threatened species of petrel.
We will work with fishermen to raise their awareness of the problem and encourage them to use simple, low-cost measures to dramatically reduce this mortality. In addition, we will work with the Namibian government and fishing industry to implement national plans and policies to reduce seabird deaths.
Our aim is reduce seabird deaths by 50% by the end of the project (March 2014) and by at least 80% in the longer term.
So we need your help and it couldn’t be easier...
Please vote now and we can secure vital funding for ATF Namibia!
Image: thousands of birds are killed in Namibian fisheries each year, hauled on lines meant for fish - like these white-chinned petrels. Photo by John Paterson
Every year BirdLife South Africa gathers a congregation of very knowledgeable scientists and birders to discuss issues around bird conservation. This annual gathering has since been coined ‘FLOCK’ and it is BirdLife South Africa’s Annual General Meeting (AGM). This year, however was pretty different with the largest number of attendants and a lot of relevant conservation lectures given to the audience. It also included seabird guiding offered by our very experienced and local professional bird guides. Lastly, this spectacle was held at sea for the first time on board the luxurious MSC Opera cruise ship. The theme for this year was all about seabird conservation and the Albatross Task Force South Africa was nominated as the beneficiary of profits made from booking sales.
Prior to the departure, an e-TV chopper hovered around and above us taking photos that were later broadcast on our local e-TV channel. As one can imagine, any medium satellite or otherwise, would have not missed such an opportunity to capture thousands of bird-lovers with binoculars and medium to super-sized camera lenses around their necks united in a united message for seabird conservation. The ATF and BirdLife South Africa has submitted a record attempt to the Guinness World records for organizing the largest gathering of birders in one area in Africa at one time.
We sailed from Cape Town to Walvis Bay in Namibia. We spent three days and nights at sea doing seabird guiding and offering public talks on issues around seabirds and their conservation. Most of the lectures were about the plight of the majestic albatross. It was just an amazing experience to have over 1000 birders from all the 9 provinces of South Africa. For many of those birders it was their first time to see an albatross and it was certainly top of the list for them. We were privileged to have on board the renowned professional birder, screenwriter, artist and author Peter Harrison, MBE. He gave lectures on the conservation of the albatross and all his lectures were attended by over 1000 thousand people and the lecture venues were filled to beyond capacity. People couldn’t stop raving about his lectures and most came to us wanting recorded audio lectures he‘s given during the cruise.
For the ATF instructors it was just a wonderful experience to be around these birders and also to formally put our seabird identification skills to practice and showcase our often understated love for these seabirds. As ATF instructors, the sea is our second home and our sphere of influence. Some of our instructors helped with seabird guiding at designated bird watching stations on various decks. One of the memories that still linger in my mind was to witness the absolute awe and elation demonstrated by 1000 birders when one of the bird guides spotted a Black-browed albatross Thalassarche Melanophrys. One could have thought they had just won 1 million US dollars. It thrilled me as an ATF instructor to bear witness to such sheer joy and admiration of the majestic and yet elusive albatross.
We landed in Cape Town on the fifth day after such an awesome sea expedition and people could not hold back their smiles and continued to appreciate the wonderful work we do in conserving seabirds in fisheries. These have in more ways than one humbled and motivated us to go an extra-mile in working towards a zero seabird mortality within fisheries.
As the Albatross Task Force team leader for South Africa, I was recently asked to provide some fishery observer training slightly further from home than usual. Excitingly I was to travel to Korea and conduct a one-day training workshop with Korean fisheries observers and scientists from the South East Atlantic Trawl Fishery.
BirdLife South Africa and the Albatross Task Force were invited to the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (NFRDI) in Busan. The South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO) and scientists of the NFRDI did a great job in organising the travel plans and after much anticipation, the time arrived to depart Cape Town, South Africa on the arduous two day journey to Korea. I arrived at the institute and spent some time going through my presentations with the lady given the task of translating during the workshop – Mikyung Lee. Mikyung was brilliant especially considering she is not a professional translator and doesn't have background knowledge of seabird conservation and research!
There was a great turnout: 25 enthusiastic and interested people (5 young scientists, 7 scientists and 15 observers). During the day we ran through topics such as how to assess the risks to seabirds in trawl fisheries, the best practise solutions available to mitigate mortality, safe handling of seabirds, seabird identification and the collection of important data while out at sea. I was treated to a true Korean-style lunch and even had time for a quick visit to the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple right next to the institute (with my ‘official’ guide – Mikyung Lee)!
Below: Bronwyn at the Haedong Yonggungsa temple
The day ended with a fun identification game where participants had to correctly identify the seabirds from less-than-perfect photographs– the competition to get it right was fierce! The observers and scientists asked many valuable questions and expressed how much they learnt. The experience was amazing, the people involved were professional, accommodation was great and the workshop was a success – it represented the first time an NGO has worked with the Asian distant water fishing fleet. This promises to be the start of a long-lasting relationship with Korean fisheries.
I would like to thank SEAFO for their role. Their scientists saw the need to collect data on seabird-trawl interactions, and the Commissioners agreed to fund my travel to Busan to carry out this important training.
Below: Bronwyn explains the best methods to handle live birds on deck.