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.
I am sitting with Titus Shaanika, one of our Albatross Task Force Instructors, at his desk in the Namibia Nature Foundation Regional Office, Walvis Bay. It is covered in seabird bycatch data entry forms, letters from government officials and an agenda packed with meetings with fishing company representatives. Outside the winter winds are howling - bringing sand and hot air from the East to this little dusty harbour town on the Atlantic coast.
Titus first started working as an ATF consultant in 2015 and re-joined our team in April this year as an ATF instructor, after completing his studies. Having spent this week with him, I am amazed by all the positive relationships he has been able to form with vessel owners, captains, fisheries observers and ministry representatives already. Seeing the enthusiasm with which he engages stakeholders in the Namibian demersal fisheries on a daily basis, I was curious to find out about what keeps him going.
What were your first trips on-board fishing vessels with the ATF like?
I did my first two fishing vessel trips on trawlers off Lüderitz (a port based in southern Namibia). These were probably my most memorable of all I have done thus far! I did these trips on my own, all I had were my colleague’s advice on what to do when you are at sea, what forms to fill out and how to ID birds.
I wasn’t sure what do with the data recording forms but did my best and used bird ID guide I had to tick seabirds off my wish list. That was fun! I remember being excited about experiencing the fishing process first hand, and getting to know what it takes to bring fish to shore.
However, there were things I struggled with too. For instance the food on the fishing vessels took some getting used to…Also, I remember one night someone left the metal net buoys untied and they were banging against the side of the vessel all night. I couldn’t sleep so I woke my cabin mate and asked him about the noise. He told me he couldn’t hear anything and I should stop disturbing him. At that point I started doubting my own sanity!
Our ATF instructor in Namibia finds it thrilling to experience the fishing process on trawl vessels first hand (Image: Titus Shaanika)
How do the ATF instructors work with the fishing crews?
In Namibia, demersal trawl and longline vessels are required to use bird scaring lines by law. However, many of the crew members are not aware of this and do not understand why it is important to protect seabirds. The ATF instructors are in a unique position on board vessels to raise awareness of these issues and offer support the people working on-board fishing vessels.
Once we have been able to convey our message to the captains and crew members, they often become interested in bird identification and are in are to learn about the biology of the seabirds around them and solutions to the threats they are facing.
Titus Shaanika meeting with the new captain on the longliner West Coast II, to explain how bird scaring lines should be used (Image: Nina da Rocha)
What do you like the most about your job?
Even though I have much more experience of being at-sea now, the excitement has not worn off. Setting sail, I am always filled with a buzz and look forward to having the opportunity to witness offshore marine life first hand: seabirds, marine mammals and whatever else we come across.
But most of all, working with people from all walks of life, from fishermen to ministry officials, and actually seeing conservation successes happen before your eyes is incredibly rewarding.
“Contributing to the health of ocean ecosystems through conservation of seabirds gives me a great sense of triumph” – Titus Mwiitantandje Shaanika
Titus’ passion for marine conservation is admirable to say the least and his experiences incredibly valuable to help point other members of the ATF in the right direction. I could not be happier to have him on our team!
Nina da Rocha
ATF Project Officer