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.
Last week I returned from my trip on Abate Molina – a scientific research vessel owned by the Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) in Chile. Although I have been working with the Albatross Task Force for over ten years, this was the first time I was on such a boat. In fact, being Argentinian, it was the first time I sailed through the waters of the South Pacific Ocean!
I spent 20 days testing bird scaring lines (BSLs) on board this vessel, during fishing operations targeting common hake (Merluccius gayi gayi). In Argentina, I work on board commercial fishing vessels to help reduce seabird bycatch by deploying bird scaring lines and raising awareness of seabird conservation issues among crew members, so this is something I am used to doing. However, I must admit my expectations were very high for this trip in Chile, as it was the first time I would be working on the same boast as a scientific team of oceanographers and hydroacoustic experts and other researchers.
ATF instructor Nahuel Chavez from Argentina has been working with the Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) in Chile to demonstrate the effectiveness of bird scaring lines (BSLs). This mitigation measure can help save thousands of seabirds, by keeping them a safe distance away from trawl cables (as seen in picture). The use of BSLs became compulsory on industrial trawlers in Argentina in May 2018.
Since I am used to being on large industrial trawlers in Argentina, Abate Molina seemed a bit small at first with its mere 43 meters. Being smaller, this boat also moved around a lot more than what I was used to, and for the first two days I was too dizzy and seasick to work! Once I got my sea-legs back however, I was able to start observing the seabirds that were assembling around the vessel. I managed to see some species I had never encountered before, including Salvin's albatross (Thalassarche salvini), the Antipodean albatross (Diomedea antipodensis) and the famous pink-footed shearwater (Ardenna creatopus), all of which are globally threatened species.
As soon as I started to deploy the bird scaring lines, the researchers, scientific observers and crew members onboard Abate Molina came to see what I was doing. They wanted to learn about the famous mitigation measure that could save thousands of seabirds. Even though I knew what I was doing, it was a bit daunting having ten people expectantly observe you. However, I soon became more relaxed as things went according to plan and the others started giving me positive feedback after witnessing the effect of the bird scaring lines first hand – seabirds feeding on discards (fish and intestines thrown overboard) farther away from the "danger zone" where the trawl cables enter the water behind the vessel.
Nahuel Chavez on-board Abate Molina with some of the crew and scientific team from the Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) in Chile.
To be honest the best thing about the trip, in addition to successfully demonstrating the effectiveness of bird scaring lines, was the great people I met along the way. The crew on the boat was extremely accommodating and helpful throughout the trip. They have a set of speakers on deck and are always listening to great tunes while they are working (like the Rolling stones and Pear Jam). This is not something I had experienced on any boats in Argentina and I had a great time listening to the songs I like while deploying the bird scaring lines!
We also had a good time playing card games and watching movies together in the evenings. At the end of the trip the crew and research team gave me a bunch of t-shirts and caps to thank me for the work I had done on-board the vessel. I too felt very grateful for having been part of this great experience – made possible by the ATF and the Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) in Chile. The trip exceeded my expectations by far! I have made new friends and together we were able to demonstrate that it is possible to save the seabirds! You can read more about this transnational collaboration here.
/Nahuel Chavez (ATF Instructor - Argentina)
This austral winter has brought positive change for the ATF teams working to reduce seabird bycatch in South America. In Argentina and Chile we have been working hard to put together a collaborative conservation effort to help save vulnerable seabirds in the Humboldt Current system - an unprecedented international cooperation in the history of the ATF!
The idea of a transnational collaboration first came about when the national Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) in Chile invited the ATF to test the effectiveness of bird-scaring lines (BSLs) on-board the vessel Abate Molina during demersal trawling operations. Bird scaring lines, deployed from the stern of the vessel, keep seabirds at a safe distance from potentially lethal trawl cables using brightly-coloured streamers. This simple mitigation measure has already been shown to reduce the incidental capture of albatrosses and petrels in trawl fleets by over 90% and is used in fisheries all over the world.
The use of BSLs on demersal trawlers is an area of expertise of the ATF in Argentina, having a long history of demonstrating the effectiveness of this mitigation measure to industry and government. Their diligent work finally paid off in May 2018, with fisheries regulations now requiring the use of bird scaring lines on the industrial trawl fleet in Argentina (following a 12-month voluntary uptake period) - which could save up to 10,000 albatross every year!
With this great achievement in mind, the opportunity to work on board IFOP's vessel Abate Molina to share their experiences with colleagues and fisheries observers in Chile came at the perfect time. Thanks to the support of IFOP and other funders, two ATF instructors from Argentina were able to join the team in Chile in July to help with the necessary preparations.
Abate Molina - the research vessel on which ATF teams from Chile and Argentina are working with the Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) in Chile to test the effectiveness of bird-scaring lines.
Moving forward, the two teams will be working closely together to test bird-scaring lines (BSLs) on-board Abate Molina during trawling operations, to provide advice on the use of this mitigation measure to the government of Chile. The teams will also be testing an anti-entanglement device (known as a Tamini Tabla or TT), developed by a member of ATF-Argentina to facilitate the use of bird-scaring lines at sea. In addition to contributing to IFOP's research on seabird bycatch mitigation measures, this work will enable the ATF to help build local capacity among the national observer agency in Chile in the use of mitigation measures and seabird bycatch monitoring.
Members of the ATF present a Tamini Tabla to to the Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) in Chile. From left to right: Luis Adasme & Claudio Bernal (IFOP researchers), Leo Tamini (Coordinator ATF-Argentina), Cristián G. Suazo (Coordinator ATF-Chile), Luis Parot (Chief Executive - IFOP), Sergio Lillo (Head of Department of Evaluation - IFOP) and Patricio Gálvez (Head of Department of Fisheries Research - IFOP).
Our ATF instructor Nahuel Chavez is carrying out this work on-board Abate Molina as we speak, using his experiences from Argentina to evaluate the use of mitigation measures on trawlers operating along the Chilean coast. Stay tuned for more updates on his progress!
/Cristian Suazo (ATF-Chile) and Leo Tamini (ATF Argentina)
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