The Albatross Task Force programme has been awarded a two-year research grant from the Marine Stewardship Council’s Ocean Stewardship Fund, one of 15 projects from around the world to receive this first-time grant!

The ATF will work in collaboration with the South African Hake Inshore trawl fleet to – Develop bespoke bird mitigation plans and measures adapted to small inshore trawl vessels, aimed at preventing seabird bycatch. It will also trial the use of electronic monitoring to collect seabird dataa first for South Africa!

This fleet’s vessels have structural and operational features making it difficult for them to implement the use of standard mitigation measures. This project will focus on tailoring broad concepts to practical on the ground measures that directly support this fleet become more ecologically sustainable.

Introduction

The work of the Albatross Task Force is to reduce seabird deaths due to interactions with fishing gear. Mitigating and ultimately preventing this accidental bycatch is our goal! In South Africa the ATF has had huge success in the implementation of mitigation measures and policy changes. Our success would however be but a drop in the sea were it not for the work of other similar teams in Namibia, South America and Europe which together champion for the protection of the millions of seabirds that roam our oceans.

What We Do

The South African ATF team works directly with fishermen to understand the realities and challenges at sea, thereby creating opportunities for the exchange of knowledge.

We work primarily with three fleets in our local waters: the deep-sea hake trawl fishery, the large pelagic longline fishery (made up of domestic and Joint-Venture fleets), and the demersal hake longline fleet.

The main work of the ATF instructors is done at sea where we join fishing trips to collect seabird abundance and interaction data as well as conduct experiments.

Our goal is to find and help implement win-win solutions to the problem of seabird bycatch. Fishermen don’t want to see a dead albatross on the hook (longline) or a drowned petrel taken by a net cable (trawl). By putting our heads together we are working towards creating a safe environment for these magnificent birds.

By trialling different mitigation measures at sea and improving them we achieve win-win practical solutions that fishermen can easily implement during their operations.

Major successes to date

Albatross deaths down by 99% in local trawl fishery!

ATF South Africa has been highly successful in achieving a remarkable reduction in seabird bycatch in the demersal trawl fishery through the introduction of:

  • Bird-scaring lines, a simple and affordable solution which act as visual deterrents to keep seabirds from cable strikes.
  • Managing offal discharge during periods of high risk
  • Ensure that the warps are clear of grease
  • Minimizing the amount of setting and hauling time

In 2008 it was estimated that 18 000 birds were dying in this industry each year. In April 2014 Albatross mortalities were reduced by 99%! The fishery has Marine Stewardship Council certification which sets a standard for sustainable fishing, this was an important factor in ensuring this fantastic outcome. Read more here…

Seabird bycatch down by 85% in the pelagic longline Joint-Venture fleet!

This fleet uses a much lighter gear to target tuna and was causing a significant seabird bycatch problem. The ATF was involved in implementing new permit conditions, which placed a seabird bycatch precautionary catch limit or ‘cap’ on each vessel. Leading to estimated 85% seabird bycatch decrease in 2008 compared to 2007 and this has been sustained to date!

Other measures in place in this fishery are night setting, the use of bird scaring lines and additional weight to the fishing line and 100% observer coverage.

Maree, BA, Wanless RM, Fairweather TP, Sullivan BJ & Yates O. 2014. Significant reductions in mortality of threatened seabirds in a South African trawl fishery. Animal Conservation 17(6):520-529.

Research

Seabird bycatch measures (such as extra weighting, fishing at night and bird scaring lines) have been extremely successful in many fisheries worldwide, including reducing seabird bycatch by up to 90%.  Despite these advances, pelagic (mid-water) longline fishing, targeting tuna and swordfish, has remained a fishery that no one has been able to address…until now! Thanks to some innovative minds in BirdLife International and FishTek (a UK-based company), there lies a promising ‘silver bullet’ for seabirds. The Hook Pod!

South Africa participated in trialling this magical device, designed to easily attach to pelagic (mid-water) longline gear and prevents incidental seabird capture by protecting the barb of the hook during the setting operations. Once the fishing gear sinks to a predetermined depth, the pod opens (using a pressure-release system), releasing the hook to begin fishing.  The pod is then simply retrieved during hauling operations closed and is ready to be reused on the following set.

The critical ingredient to effective bycatch mitigation is to provide fishermen with an option that is easy to use, cost-effective and has operational or economic advantages to their business. The hook pod has all these ingredients. The hook pod has the potential to virtually eliminate seabird bycatch in industrial pelagic longline fisheries worldwide!

On land work

Bird Scaring Lines

  • The South African ATF successfully lobbied the use of Bird Scaring Lines (BSL) declared mandatory in the South African trawl and longlining fisheries. Bird scaring lines “scare” or deter seabirds away from the danger area (around the trawl cables and hooks). It consists of a main line with colorful streamers that flap in the wind at the stern of fishing vessels.

 

Ocean View Association for Persons with Disabilities

  • The Ocean View Association for Persons with Disabilities (OVAPD) is an association that provides people with disabilities, from in and around the local community with a place where they can interact, learn skills and possibly make a small income. In 2011 a project was set up between the ATF and OVAPD to produce bird scaring lines which are then supplied to the fishing industry. The project has been made possible through generous grants received by Total and more recently from the Rand Merchant Bank Fundation. Two designs of bird scaring lines are currently made by the OVAPD; one for trawl and longline fleets.

 

Bird Mitigation Plan

  • The ATF is also working with government and other stakeholders to ensure all target fleets are complying with the recommended mitigation methods. In the trawl fleet we achieve this by tailored Bird Mitigation Plans (BMP) through bi-annual assessments. The BMPs introduce a standard set of procedures to reduce seabird interactions, whilst allowing vessel operators to refine and adapt these to meet each vessels capabilities.

Harbour Visits

  • A key ATF strategy is to build personal relationships with fishermen. We visit them at the harbour, an environment where they feel at home. We discuss their recent trips, any issues that came up, and plan future sea trips with them. We also deliver bird scaring lines and discuss other mitigation measures with them.
  • In an attempt to try to prevent future incidents, a cartoon has been created to educate people and shows very simply how to handle a live bird with a hook in it. If done properly it is hoped that it will result in the birds escaping without much injury.

Resources

Seabird bycatch fact sheets

ACAP has produced a series of Seabird Bycatch Mitigation Factsheets which describe the range of potential mitigation measures available to reduce seabird bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries. The sheets assess the effectiveness of each measure, highlight their limitations and strengths, and make best practice recommendations for their effective adoption. They are designed to help decision-makers choose the most appropriate measures for their longline and trawl fisheries.

For more information, please contact: Reason Nyengera and Andrea Angel.

Sponsors

The ATF team’s successes could not be achieved without the following sponsors: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, BirdLife International, Rand Merchant Bank, and Van de Venter Majapelo (VVM).