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.
My last trip was aboard a vessel that prides itself on doing everything possible to reduce seabird bycatch ~ the FV Harvest Nandi. I was highly impressed with the attitudes and knowledge of the entire crew – from the skipper to the factory men, deckhands to engineers – they were all conscious about seabirds and the importance of preventing endangered species’ extinctions. I think this stems from direct and constant involvement of BirdLife South Africa with the industry, right down to the sea-going staff and particularly this vessel, as we have used it as a boat for experiments.
Between my observations, I catch up with the crew in the Mess room and eat fresh fish. “How are your birds doing?” they ask, and how it’s possible to count them all – there are hundreds! It’s easy “one, two, three…one hundred!” We joke and after a few days they get more comfortable with me. The interactions with the people on the boats are great. One day the first mate, with a huge grin, asked “Chrissie, how many bird species do you see?” I counted 11, and the mate jumped up, mockingly pointed to the Boson and laughed out loud “he thinks there’s only 4!” It’s true, there are 4 main groups (albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, skuas), but several species. These moments are great to show the crew how to identify a black-browed albatross vs. a shy albatross, and once they feel more comfortable, they come with many questions about the birds. It’s a great grassroots learning platform.
Below: Preparing to take species abundance counts as seabirds follow the trawler. Image Chrissie Madden
In the Mess Room, I spoke to the Chief Engineer, “Dulla”. “Before BirdLife came and spoke to us, we weren’t concerned about the birds. Hulle is net voels, they are just birds. But now we have been educated and we are aware of them. This is South Africa’s wildlife, and each animal has its protector. You can’t just shoot a rhino, it has its protector. All wildlife in South Africa has a protector.” Dulla showed deep understanding of the ethos of conservation and went on to describe how he and his crew are contributing towards conserving seabirds. “The Tori Lines are easy and we always use the Rory Lines*, and we see it works. If the Rory Line is up [i.e. not deployed], some birds go to the stern. But the Rory Line doesn’t hurt the birds, it’s not heavy so the straps don’t push the birds down. Before the Tori Lines, a bird would get stuck in the net or cable, and there was nothing you can do about it. But now this doesn’t happen anymore.” I was touched. This highlighted the importance of long-term relationships and personal engagements with the very people who are in charge of responsible fishing practices. I could see the crew were fond of BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force, they understood our mandate, that education and awareness is empowering, and they were proud to be fishermen.
Below: The Rory Line is an additional mitigation measure attached to the side of the vessel, near the scupper where discards enter the water. The use of these are voluntary. Image Chrissie Madden.
Mummified remains in the Atacama Desert suggest the first Andean tribes ventured closer to the coast some 7,000 BC, attracted by the plentiful and accessible marine resources. Today, the most northerly city in Chile is still an important fishing port, with numerous purse seine and gillnet vessels active all year, as well as other coastal ventures that include seaweed and shell fish gathering, plus a growing marine tourism industry.
Through the work of the Albatross Task Force we have been gathering as well, not shell fish but important data on vulnerable species interactions with the main fisheries. One of the lesser understood fisheries here is the gillnet fleet, which uses 40 to 200 metre-long monofilament nets which are set in around 15 m deep water. Up to eleven nets are deployed by each 10 m wooden vessel every day, powered by a small outboard engine.
Below: Juan-Carlos Gonzalez aboard a gillnet vessel off the coast of Arica, Chile. Photo: JC Gonzalez
The coastal waters of Arica are also important foraging grounds for green turtles Chelonia Mydas, which are resident off the coast all year round. During our monitoring of the fisheries we have discovered cases of incidental bycatch of these turtles. The individuals observed caught were released alive, but this may not always be the case. Unfortunately we also recorded seabird bycatch, and due to their limited dive ability the seabirds are normally found dead during the haul.
Below: A green turtle caught in gillnet fishing gear is left to rest before being released. Photo: JC Gonzalez
Monitoring fisheries is the first step toward understanding the level of not only seabird bycatch, but also other vulnerable species like turtles and dolphins. By doing so we can establish what factors contribute to the bycatch events and use this information to develop strategies with the industry to avoid sensitive times and areas or help modify the gear and operation to prevent the bycatch. The next steps are to trial the proposed mitigation measures to determine what solutions can be introduced in these fisheries to enable long-established fishing traditions to continue without endangering vulnerable species.
Last week our very own Clemens Naomab of our Albatross Task Force team in Namibia attended the "Fishtival", an event aimed at providing all stakeholders in the fishing/seafood/marine products sector with a platform to display or market their products and services. Clemens, pictured below, set up an Albatross Task Force stall to enable closer contact with fishing industry and local community, reaching beyond he contact we have with the fishing crew and captains on board the vessels.
There was considerable interest in the work of the Albatross Task Force, and the much sought after limited edition ATF Namibia T-shirts were handed out to a lucky selection of enthusiastic captains, who are actively adopting mitigation measures on their vessels. "The industry is very interested in our work at the moment, as fishery regulations are being introduced and we are very busy providing the technical support and guidance needed to make sure this process runs smoothly" reported Clemens.
Below: Clemens Naomab, ATF Namibia sports a fine yellow ATF Namibia T-shirt
One of the important aspects of attending fishing stakeholder events is to ensure that all levels of industry, not just captains and crew, are aware of the vulnerable seabirds that inhabit the same waters as they are fishing in and the urgent action that is required to prevent many of these seabird species from suffering continued population declines.
Namibian fisheries include a very large industrial trawl fleet, and a smaller longline fleet. Both these fisheries target hake, which is exported to Europe, predominantly for the Spanish market. The Benguela Current on the west coast of Africa is one of the world's Large Marine Ecosystems, characterised for the nutrient rich upwelling waters. The Benguela Current provides critical primary production that feeds the ocean food web, including important foraging grounds for albatross and petrels.
BirdLife's Albatross Task Force is supporting the uptake of seabird bycatch mitigation measures in Namibia, where the trawl and longline fleet are voluntarily using these measures in the lead up to full implementation of new fishery regulations.
Seabird bycatch mitigation measures for trawl fisheries are simple: a set of birds-caring lines are deployed behind the vessel to scare the foraging birds away from the trawl cables. Measures for the longline fishery include bird-scaring lines, which scare birds away from baited hooks, night setting and line waiting. The ATF has shown that together, these three measures can reduce seabird bycatch by over 95%.
Below: Seabirds devour offal discards from a demersal longline vessel in Namibia. Image by Clemens Naomab