Common Oceans Programme

How to take the Albatross Task Force (ATF) work, experiences and successes to the next level? This has long been BirdLife’s desire, but the resources to do so, and the best approach, were always going to be tricky to find. Enter the Common Oceans project. BirdLife International, through BirdLife South Africa, is an implementing partner in this massive, global project.

To address the management challenges posed by the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ or also known as the High Seas) on a global scale and to ensure fisheries and biodiversity are managed sustainably, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is funding the Common Oceans Programme ( Within this larger Programme, sustainability of high seas tuna fisheries is the largest subcomponent, called the Common Oceans Tuna Project.

The Common Oceans Programme is being implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The Programme aims to achieve efficient and sustainable management of fisheries resources and biodiversity conservation in the ABNJ.

The Programme comprises four distinct work areas:

  1. Sustainable management of tuna fisheries & biodiversity
  2. Sustainable use of deep-sea living resources & biodiversity
  3. Oceans Partnership for sustainable fisheries & biodiversity conservation
  4. Strengthening global capacity to effectively manage ABNJ

The Common Oceans Tuna Project (part of the larger Common Oceans Programme,) aims to achieve responsibility, efficiency, and sustainability in tuna production and biodiversity conservation on the high seas, through the systemic application of an ecosystem approach to tuna fisheries. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is the implementing agency for the project. BirdLife International, through its local partner, BirdLife South Africa, is implementing the seabird bycatch component of the Common Oceans Tuna Project.

The seabird bycatch component consists of four elements that will work together to achieve the goals mentioned above, building on the great work of BirdLife’s Marine Programme and Albatross Task Force (ATF).

  • Element 1: National Awareness Workshops: Effective Seabird Conservation in Tuna FisheriesElement 1 aims to improve awareness of, enhance and accelerate the use of best practice mitigation measures by all fleets operating in the critical areas of the Atlantic and Indian oceans. This objective will be achieved through 2-day, in-country workshops within the national observer Programmes and fishing industries of Namibia, China, Indonesia, Korea, Seychelles, Mozambique and the European Union.
  • Element 2: Observer Training Workshops: Seabird Bycatch Mitigation
    So, the rules are in place within the RFMOs, but how do we take the paper regulations and change practices on deck? Observer Programmemes are mandatory within each RFMO, so working through observers can give us a very powerful route to getting onboard and working with fishermen during production fishing. The workshops will target China, Indonesia and Namibia, with detailed training on seabird ID, scientific research methods, best practice seabird bycatch mitigation measures, and ecosystem considerations in tuna longline fishing.
  • Element 3: Port-based outreach pilot work: Seabird Bycatch Mitigation
    Cape Town is frequented by a significant portion of the ABNJ tuna fleet that fishes in critical areas of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. For this reason, Cape Town will host the port-based outreach (PBO) pilot project.
    The PBO pilot aims to quantify levels of understanding about RFMO bycatch regulations by crew, provide materials and raise awareness where needed, and track how the whole project is changing practices onboard. As this is primarily an outreach and tracking exercise, there will be no compliance reporting on vessel practices.
  • Element 4: Seabird Bycatch Assessment Workshops

Currently, the state of play as regards countries reporting seabird bycatch rates and mitigation measure use to RFMOs is both variable and, in general, completely useless for any real assessments. This element is geared towards creating more understanding about what is needed, and why, within the group of government scientists/staff who actually curate data and develop reports for RFMOs, and to lead a collaborative process to develop statistical tools and basic reporting templates for standardizing seabird bycatch reporting to RFMOs. Then, once this is done, we plan to host a global seabird bycatch assessment workshop, with all t-RFMOs represented and all countries which catch seabirds during tuna fishing. The assessment process agreed on during these workshops will undergo a final review during a follow-up workshop toward the end of the project.

With such a vast scope of work ahead, the BirdLife South Africa team in Cape Town has grown by three members. The new positions include a Project Output Coordinator, Port-Based Outreach Officer and Project Fleet-based Training Coordinator employed as National Project Personnel with the FAO and supported by BirdLife.

Bronwyn Maree 
Seabird Bycatch Project Coordinator - Common Oceans Tuna Project

Bronwyn is responsible for ensuring the smooth implementation of the Common Oceans Tuna Project in South Africa, through BirdLife South Africa (as the implementing agent). In addition to the project implementation she is tasked with increasing data analysis capacity of national scientists and organisations that work with seabird bycatch of foreign tuna longline vessels operating on the high seas.

Peter Watt-Pringle 
Port-Based Outreach Officer - Common Oceans Tuna Project

Pete is responsible for working with foreign tuna longline vessels that operate on the high seas. He will be engaging in awareness activities on seabird bycatch through port visits when they dock in Cape Town harbour.