During eight days at-sea we only managed to half-fill the fish hold on this fishing vessel. This explains how the fishing has been recently. We can’t blame it on the weather because most of the days were fine. However, there were some few days when the sea was rough with strong winds, thus making the vessel unstable and unbearable particularly in the Agulhas region.
The vessel I sailed on had 38 crew members, including myself. It took us several hours to reach the fishing grounds, departing just after midnight. The skipper shared his own experiences and opinion on the use of the bird scaring (tori) line with me. It was a good feeling to hear him saying that he has no doubt that it has reduced seabird mortalities, but also made recommendations to reduce entanglements with the warp cables (the two cables that tow the net). All the skippers I have sailed with so far show interest and willingness to participate in saving seabirds.
The moment that made my trip was when I convinced one of the officers about mitigation by showing the albatrosses and bird scaring line videos.
As they say a picture can say a thousand words, because at the end a small group had gathered to watch the video. It was the best thing I have ever seen while sailing. This happened a day after I gave the crew some Save Our Seabirds awareness brochures and shortly afterwards I was bombarded by loads of questions. Knowing exactly how the video did wonders to the crew, I slept like a baby.
Below: Tori lines deployed in the South African trawl fishery. Photo by Bronwyn Maree
ATF instructors’ work is amazing and something to keep smiling about. Apart from testing seabird bycatch mitigation measures, ATF instructors have other forms of entertainment that keeps them refreshed at all times.
A normal day starts with breakfast wonderfully prepared by the wonderful ship’s cook. This breakfast is often served with a fresh fruit carefully selected from the bountiful gardens under the African sky. This meal is shared with officers and crew with enough charisma to carry one through the day. Once this is done, a siren will go off to warn crew to take up their respective positions indicating the start of the day’s business, which is invariably fishing.
For an ATF instructor this will be the time for data collection and observation of the elusive and majestic albatross.
While at sea, instructors are graced with an untainted beauty of the deep blue ocean dressed elegantly with its living forms. The view is pristine and the feeling is serene. No-one can return from sea unchanged emotionally and spiritually. At times when the weather is really bad and conditions are not conducive to work under, instructors spend time educating crew by use of videos about seabird bycatch measures. This is often done in an informal and interactive way to allow participation from crew. This is the time when the crew are given the chance to make suggestions on how they think we can improve seabird bycatch measures. Instructors use this time to gauge the crew’s response and overall feeling about the mitigation measure they would be testing.
On most vessels, instructors are treated as part of the family onboard the vessels. Often crew go out of their way to help instructors feel at home and help with the research work that instructors do. Crew are actively encouraged to help where they can so they feel that they are contributing to the conservation effort and gain ownership of the mitigation measures. By doing so, we are able to work together to integrate mitigation with minimal impact on their daily fishing operations.
Our slogan in South Africa says ‘together we can’. So, in the same token we believe that by working together with the crew on fishing vessels will make a huge difference to the conservation status of seabirds.
Below: hauling nets on a South African trawl vessel
More than five long years had passed since I was last in the austral Atlantic Ocean. Some of those years, spent in the arid Brazilian capital, had made these fifteen days aboard a longline vessel a learning experience of the real meaning of living at, and from the sea.
The daily routines, the isolation, the struggle against time and bad weather, the ocean and its singularities, fishing adversities and the interactions with humans and nature surfaced long lost and even unknown feelings. The vessel I sailed with was the Floripa SL 3, steered by the great Captain Dudu, and his experienced crew (Zemildo, Ronaldo, Erax, Jó, Neguinho and Wallace). Life at sea is a challenging test of coexisting, self-control and a strain on all the emotions.
Spending days confined in a small place amongst totally unknown people, while dealing with the rolling motion of the boat weighs heavy on your energy levels, especially without news from land and family.
Just before leaving port, I was informed that we needed to assist a vessel in distress that had been drifting for a few days. If that news wasn’t enough for our pre- cruise adrenaline, the rain and the wind started picking up.
Leaving the port of Itajaí, the last message sent to my wife and child on land was, “I love you very much my beautiful, I’ll be back soon. Take care of our little Viking, and tell him that dad will be right back!!”
With that said the journey and the isolation began. After 12 or so hours of navigation, a Yellow-nosed albatross accompanied us to where the drifting vessel was spotted. Long hours passed, until suddenly an engine roar was heard, followed by a scream of “Its working!” It was a relief for everybody, at last the crew from the broken boat could return to work, and eventually home, and we could finally start fishing.
Below: A Yellow-nosed albatross guides us to the drifting ship
After two days with low catches, a new bad weather warning came through on the radio (Beaufort 8 ~9). Once again the spirits were shaken, and a new expression was printed on the faces of the crew members; a mixture of apprehension and concern. With the announcement of bad weather our only option was to drop anchor and face the storm; it was a rough night, with a lot of wind, bad seas and little sleep. The sound of waves crashing against the wooden hull gave us the impression that the boat was about to crack. In all this, small events occurred to lift our spirits. Sometimes an albatross flying so close that I could almost touch it, other times the illustrious presence of friendly dolphins. Sad moments, happy moments, that’s the life at sea.
Eventually, the storm lifted and as an old fishing saying goes; “After the storm comes the bonanza”. With the calming seas we found good fishing grounds and we started to fill the hold.
After several days with barely any sleep, and the last three days without drinkable water, we returned to port, which was for sure the best moment of the trip. There is nothing better than returning home to your family’s affection.
Albatross Task Force instructors have many responsibilities that include but are not-limited to working with fisheries. Of course, our main objective is seabird conservation and we do that by finding ways to work together with the fishers to reduce bycatch levels in the industry. This objective is facilitated through our educational and awareness workshops and continuous at-sea monitoring programmes.
Our responsibilities extend beyond fisheries and often deal with the social aspects of the community. We conduct school visits and educate school kids about seabird conservation and issues that revolve around nature conservation. We use these visits to encourage learners to start developing an early love for nature and species conservation. We believe that to win this fight for seabird conservation, we need to groom these young learners about mitigation measures in preparation for the future.
In addition, we teach them how to take care of the marine environment within which these seabirds forage. We also teach them how to handle stranded seabirds that may have been pushed onshore by strong winds and ferocious storms. To do that, we use visual demonstrations by way of cartoons to get the message across. In so doing, we are trying to convey to them that anyone can make a difference in protecting the natural environment while having fun.
In our respective communities, we encourage people to make an effort in keeping the environment clean. We educate them to use reusable-carrier bags rather than plastic ones when visiting beaches. These plastics contribute to marine pollution and we therefore explain the dangers of littering. The message we want to get across is that marine pollution is a real threat to seabirds as some species tend to ingest plastics and die as result. Apart from education and awareness, we work with other local NGOs towards the common objective which is to conserve the natural environment and its precious species.
Our underlying objective is to reduce seabird mortalities and promote seabird conservation amongst the fishermen and the entire public. We believe that this is possible but we also realise that the task at hand is not an easy one and it would take a collective effort from the fishing community and the entire public to achieve our goal.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.