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 last couple of months have involved a lot of change for me personally and for the ATF team as a whole. With new people coming on-board and regulations changing in the countries we work in, exciting times lie ahead and we want to share it all with you!
I thought that introducing myself on here would be appropriate, since this blog has been part of the ATF story since the project was first launched in South Africa in 2006. Although a lot has happened in these 12 years, the main objective of the ATF still remains to reduce the bycatch of albatross and petrels in fisheries and ultimately improve the conservation status of threatened seabirds.
Today the ATF team is spread across 5 countries in South America and southern Africa, working to help develop and implement suitable bycatch mitigation measures for different fisheries. By doing so, our team of passionate and knowledgeable ATF instructors do the incredible work of bridging the gap between emerging science and people working at sea.
I joined the ATF as Project Officer at the end of February and let me tell you, it has been a steep learning curve ever since! Before I knew it, I was on my way to the 5th ATF Instructor Workshop in Argentina. There I had the privilege of getting to know the inspiring men and women working on-board boats to help save these magnificent seabirds from a needless death!
Image: ATF instructors from South Africa, Namibia, Argentina, Chile and Brazil at ATF Instructor workshop in Mar del Plata, March 2018.
After many years of hard work, regulations to protect seabirds in fisheries have now been introduced in many of the countries we work in. Legislative changes provide a good platform to ensure the long-term sustainability of bycatch reductions into the future – so this is a very exciting time for me to be joining the project!
I could really feel the energy buzzing off the ATF team members in Argentina, just months before the use of bird scaring lines became compulsory on trawlers there - saving an estimated 10 000 black-browed albatrosses every year!
But there is still a lot of work to be done! Soon, the ATF team in Brazil will be conducting at-sea trials with Hookpods to investigate this new mitigation measure’s effect on seabird and turtle bycatch rates in longline fisheries. This is something I myself feel very passionately about, since I was involved in projects aimed at mitigating turtle bycatch in fisheries in Brazil before joining the RSPB.
Having been in post for a few months, I am certain good things are coming our way and can’t wait to see which conservation success we will get to celebrate together next! Watch this space to find out more about what we are doing on our journey to help save the albatross!
Happy World Oceans Day!
Nina da Rocha, ATF Project Officer
Some time ago I wrote about the challenges for small scale fishers in Chile, who are represented by fragile working conditions and confront stormy waters in the ironically named Pacific Ocean.
I have always tried to highlight the role of small scale fishers as providing an important source of nutrition and tourism for local economies, as well as holding a wealth of knowledge that is relevant for future marine conservation action.
Because of this, working with them through the Albatross Task Force has given us irreplaceable experiences and led to some innovative solutions toward reducing the interaction between small scale purse seine and gillnet fisheries and seabirds in the Humboldt Current.
Below: Small-scale purse seine fishermen in Coquimbo, Chile. Photo by Paola Palavecino.
Together with Japan, Chile is one of the most seismic countries in the world, and has been affected by 10 earthquakes in the past two years, half of which have caused tsunamis. Of course these events are most closely felt by the coastal communities and especially the small scale fishing fleets.
On the 16th September a magnitude 8.3 earthquake hit the central north coast of Chile around Illapel, 189 km to the south of the bay of Coquimbo (29 degrees south). A total of 15 people tragically lost their lives, with 4.5 m waves created by the earthquake crashing through port installations and infrastructure.
The small scale fishers of the region lost some 400 boats to the tsunami, but despite this massive impact were the first to find the way to get to sea straight away to rescue survivors and search for people who were swept away by the waves.
Further south, in the coastal town of Coronel, where the community was still recovering from the tsunami of 2010 the locals gathered food and supplies to send to the communities in the north.
While these coastal towns start to rebuild through support from volunteers and the local authorities, it is necessary to remember the smaller coastal villages and localities that are further removed from the urban centres. A total of 23 of these small ports were affected by the tsunami around Coquimbo.
As observers of the marine environment, we ought to recognise the capacity of the fishing communities to endure these incredible natural disasters and return to the ocean to which they belong.
The same ocean supports the seabirds, which serve as important indicators of marine resources for the fishers. After working together, the communities recognise the impacts that they can have on the ocean ecosystem, as well as the impacts the ocean can have on them. Through this work we are finding solutions to incidental seabird bycatch and developing alternative methods that can be used as mitigation measures for small scale fleets.
For all these reasons, we hope with all our hearts that they are able to return to sea as soon as possible, to rebuild their lives after this most recent challenge. For our part, we will continue working with them, counting on their unshakable resolve, to find and develop measures that prevent the incidental capture of seabirds.
For the fishers, their families and all the small coastal communities, we wish you a swift recovery and send you strength lads!
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.