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 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.
The status of the world’s seabirds has deteriorated rapidly over recent decades and several species and many populations are now threatened with extinction. Last information from BirdLife International’s data and assessment for the IUCN Red List reveals that seabirds are now more threatened than any other group of birds. Of the 346 seabird species, 97 (28%) are globally threatened and nearly half of all seabird species are known or suspected to be experiencing population declines. The albatross family is especially imperiled with 15 of the 22 species currently threatened with extinction. One of the main factors that contribute to declining seabird populations is bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries.
The good news is that simple, practical measures exist that rapidly reduce seabird mortality once they are included in daily fishing operations. One of the most widely demonstrated measures for trawl fisheries is the bird-scaring line, which is deployed on either side of the vessel to create a physical barrier between the birds and the trawl cables that tow fishing nets. By preventing birds from colliding with the cables, bird-scaring lines keep birds from being struck and dragged under water.The Albatross Task Force in Argentina, hosted by the local BirdLife partner Aves Argentinas has been working in conjunction with several government entities; the Subsecretaría de Pesca de la Nación, the Subsecretaría de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable, the Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Pesquero and the Universidad de Mar del Plata plus non-governmental organisation Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina.
The output of this collaboration has been a resolution, approved by the Federal Fisheries Council to initiate a six month programme to test the operational and logistical challenges in implementing bird-scaring lines on the vessels of the industrial freezer trawl fleet. The resolution, proposed by the Technical Advisory Committee of the National Plan of Action for seabirds, received unanimous approval with the intention to collaborate with the captains and crew to refine bird-scaring line designs that will minimise any operational concerns for the crew before the measures become obligatory in the fishery.
According to observations conducted by the Albatross Task Force, the mortality rate of black-browed albatross in the fishery is as high as 0.237 birds per hour trawled, with a total annual trawl effort of 58,000 hours. The use of bird-scaring lines has been shown to practically eliminate this mortality in the fishery.
In Argentina the National Plan of Action to reduce seabird bycatch calls for the use of mitigation measures for trawl fisheries and the implementation of measures that have been tested and proven. The Albatross Task Force in Argentina, with support from BirdLife International and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, has the main objective of evaluating seabird mortality in different fleets and developing mitigation measures to reduce levels of seabird bycatch.
Of the 300,000 seabirds killed in longline and trawl fisheries each year, around 100,000 are albatross. This level of mortality is clearly not sustainable for these inspirational, but sadly imperilled seabirds, with 15 of the 22 species of albatross threatened with extinction.
Birds are killed when they scavenge baited hooks, are dragged underwater and drown in longline fisheries; or while feeding on factory discards are struck by the cables that tow trawl nets, forced underwater and drown or suffer massive trauma in trawl fisheries.
Below: Seabird mortality caused by trawl (left) and longline (right) fisheries. Graphics Rachel Hudson
Simple solutions exist that rapidly reduce the impact of our industrial fisheries on all seabirds:
Using good line weighting to sink baited hooks under the protection of a bird-scaring line at night is extremely unlikely to catch any birds. Flying bird scaring lines behind trawl vessels is enough to dramatically reduce seabird mortality.
The Albatross Task Force has been working with the longline and trawl fishing industry in southern Africa and South America to test and trial these measures over the past years. Our results indicate that the effect of using these measures correctly reduces seabird bycatch by over 95%, and can even eliminate bycatch.
Below: Setting starts in Uruguay as the sunsets, with a bird scaring line already deployed. Photo Martin Abreu
We are committed to continue demonstrating how these measures can best be incorporated into the daily fishing routine, on board fishing vessels side by side with the captains and crew of the vessels. Our objective is to help industry understand the issue of seabird bycatch and become proficient in the practical use of these mitigation measures in order to achieve wide-scale adoption of seabird conservation measures.
An important and innovative new measure is being developed to provide a 'one-stop' alternative to the combination of three measures used in longline fisheries, which would potentially simplify policy and practice for industry. The Hook pod encapsulates the point of the hook, only releasing it beyond the dive depth of foraging birds. This week our South African Albatross Task Force instructor Bokamoso Lebepe is heading to sea on the FV Saxon to test the Hook pod in the pelagic longline fishery.
We already know that the Hook pod can be incorporated easily into the daily routine of the fishing operation and to date our data shows a high reduction in seabird bycatch once this measure is used. We are continuing monitoring to develop a large data set that will ensure robust science backs the credentials of any new measures that we support for introduction as best practice in fisheries.
One of the key roles the Albatross Task Force performs, is creating a link between policy and grass roots action. By doing so the Task Force is supporting the correct implementation of best practice measures to reduce bycatch in critical sites for seabirds.
Below: Bokamoso with the skipper of the FV Saxon in South Africa. Photo Bronwyn Maree