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.
Today I am not going to brag about all the amazing and rare seabirds that I see (I see Wandering Albatross when I am at sea!) and all the whales, dolphins and sharks that I encountered on my journeys at sea. Today I want to share with you how conducting at-sea trials changed my perspective on life. I want to tell you about how changing the fate of seabirds has changed my fate.
Below: A Wandering albatross, Bokamoso Lebepe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said “Everything is hard before it is easy”. I never fully comprehended the meaning of these words before embarking on mitigation measure trials on pelagic longline fishing vessels in South Africa. These words seemed so ordinary to me before I started conducting trials to test Hook pods, an innovative new measure that protects the barb of the hook until the fishing gear sinks below the reach of foraging seabirds.
Before I joined the Albatross Task Force and sailed on small longline vessels I always thought of going to sea as something benign. I think that was partly because my first experience going to sea was on the 110 m long 6,120 tonne SA Agulhas II, South Africa’s research vessel. My first experience was therefore a luxurious one. I enjoyed all the amenities and comforts of a hotel Back then I did not know what really being at sea was all about, at least not as fishermen live anyway. I had never experienced seasickness except after a New Year’s Eve party on the boat, which to be honest may have had more to do with the excesses of New Year than actual seasickness!
I only began to understand what being seasick really meant when I made my first trips on the small local longline vessels. I found a great new respect for the sea and Mother Nature. I learnt a neat balancing trick of holding a brown bag in one hand and holding a spiral note book in the other hand whilst ensuring I kept my eye on the movement of the vessel. I learnt how to concentrate on collecting data even when seasick. I learnt how to work when you do not feel like it and how to work with people who do not speak the same languages as me. I learnt how to handle loneliness and how to negotiate every morning with the skipper to ensure our trials could continue smoothly. I developed a keen eye for the ocean and soon realised when bad weather was on its way.
Below: The FV Saxon, a South African longline vessel, Bokamoso Lebepe
Though many of these things seem negative, it all depends on your perspective. I try to look at it all in a positive way, as if each challenge is a brick of steel that I can add to my foundation in life and use to become a stronger person who is able to achieve more. My challenges became stepping stones.
If I can conduct experimental trials at sea in commercial conditions, and triumph over them I can triumph over anything, I can move mountains and leap over oceans. I have become a stronger person and I believe that I can handle anything that life throws my way. Even though these trials were challenging I would do them all over again in a heartbeat.
Robert Greene said in his book, The 48 laws of power that “Everything that has worth is worth paying for”. Hook pod trials taught me that ‘Everything that has worth is worth paying for with your blood, sweat, tears and occasional puke……
Incidental bycatch in fisheries constitutes the major threat for many vulnerable populations of seabirds. Globally 300,000 seabirds are killed in longline and trawl fisheries where they are hooked and drown on baited hooks or are struck by trawl cables and dragged under water. Approximately 100,000 of these birds are albatross, the most threatened family of birds with 15 of 22 species at risk of extinction.
The Albatross Task Force (ATF) is part of BirdLife International’s Marine Programme and works in the world’s global bycatch ‘hot spots’ with industry to introduce practical measures that, once in use, rapidly reduce the mortality of seabirds. The ATF has been working with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Namibia since 2008 where we have demonstrated that the combined levels of seabird mortality for hake longline and trawl fisheries is around 30,000 seabirds per year, which is one of the highest levels of mortality in the world.
Below: ATF Instructor Kondja Amutenya on board a Namibian trawl vessel
The good news is that the ATF has also demonstrated that the adoption of simple and cost-effective mitigation measures in both these fisheries could reduce mortality to negligible levels. In the trawl fleet the use of bird scaring lines with streamers that flap in the wind and scare birds away from the dangerous areas of a vessel is a simple solution.. that will practically eliminates seabird bycatch. In the longline fleet, this measure in combination with line weighting to sink the hooks away from foraging birds and paired bird scaring lines, should reduce bycatch by over 95%.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has now taken a positive step toward reducing seabird bycatch in Namibia, by introducing new fishery regulations that will require all trawl and longline vessels to use bird scaring lines, and for longline vessels to use improved line weighting. These new regulations are expected to come into effect as of the 1st November 2014 and will drastically reduce the impact of these two fisheries on vulnerable seabirds.
The fishing industry in Namibia, led by local fishing companies has been cooperative with the proposed conservation measures, with several companies already adopting voluntary use of the bird scaring lines. The introduction of regulations will ensure the simple measures are adopted across the whole fleet. Namibia already has high levels of observer coverage in their fisheries, which means it will be easy to identify compliance with these new regulations. This provides an excellent example of how positive collaboration between conservation organisations, local government and responsible industry associations can make a huge contribution to sustaining global biodiversity and reducing our impact on the marine environment.
Below: Kondja Amutenya setting up mitigation measures with trawl vessel crew in preparation for the new regulations. Image Sarah Yates
The prestigious SAB Environmentalist of the Year Award was made to Dr Ross Wanless, from BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme, at a ceremony in Johannesburg yesterday. Dr Wanless has overseen a number of impressive conservation achievements over the past six years at BirdLife South Africa, building on a career of seabird science and conservation work that started in 1997. Dr Wanless was unable to receive the award in person, as he is travelling internationally for work. BirdLife South Africa’s CEO, Mark Anderson, received the award on Dr Wanless’ behalf.
The SAB award recognised not just a lot of hard work over many years, but an individual who has been instrumental in delivering significant, lasting conservation outcomes. Very few conservation programmes can actually demonstrate tangible benefits for species they seek to conserve. It is still more exceptional for a programme to bring benefits to a suite of threatened species. BirdLife South Africa’s extraordinary work to prevent the extinction of albatrosses and petrels is one such programme. Under the leadership of Dr Ross Wanless, the programme has used science, advocacy, persistence and win-win solutions to turn the tide against fisheries impacts on iconic seabirds. Earlier this year his team announced, via a research paper in the highly rated, international science journal Animal Conservation, that their efforts in the South African hake trawl fishery had caused a reduction in seabird mortality of up to 90%. Dr Wanless is currently in South Korea, running a workshop with the Korean tuna longline fleet to assist that fleet to adopt best practice measures for avoiding accidental seabird catches.
Dr Wanless has recreated the African Seabird Group and oversaw a successful bid for the group to host the second World Seabird Conference, to be in Cape Town in October next year; he is chair of the local organising committee and sits on the World Seabird Unions’ conference executive committee. He also created and oversees the annual Celebrate Our Seas festival which kicked off in the beginning of October as part of National Marine Week. He maintains strong links to the University of Cape Town, and is currently supervising a Masters and a PhD student.
“It’s a real honour to receive this sort of recognition, but I do need to acknowledge that I have an amazing team at BirdLife South Africa, and this award is theirs as much as mine” said Dr Wanless.