Everyone loves good news! And boy, do we have a … hold on.
After over a decade of working with the country’s fishing industry and fisheries managers, the Albatross Task Force (ATF) is celebrating a great conservation success in Namibia. A new paper hot off the press shows that seabird deaths in the Namibian bottom line fishery have been reduced by 98%. That equates to 22,000 rescued birds per year! Yes, you read that right. What a win.
This achievement is thanks to the effective regulation by the government and the dedicated commitment of our dedicated team of bycatch instructors for seabirds, including Titus Shaanika (read an interview with Titus) and team leader Samantha Matjila. Working directly with the fishing industry, the task force demonstrates the simple steps that can be taken to prevent birds from being caught on longline fishhooks or from being killed by colliding with the thick steel cables that drag nets through the water.
One of the first tasks of the task force was to determine the extent of the problem of bycatch of sea birds in Namibia. The results were quite shocking: Namibia’s hake trawling and longline fisheries were among the deadliest seabirds in the world: an estimated 30,000 birds were killed each year. Even more worrying, this included threatened species such as the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos (endangered) and the white-chin petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis (endangered).
Yellow Nosed Atlantic Albatross, Copyright Graham Ekins, from the Surfbirds Galleries
Damage limitation becomes law
The task force quickly got to work and began meeting with the fishing industry to show them measures to contain seabirds such as scarecrows – simple lines with brightly colored streamers pulled behind the ship that act as scarecrows and birds from Keep bait hooks or dangerous trawls away. After many thousands of hours at sea and in ports building support for these measures and the importance of protecting seabirds, the team successfully advocated fishing regulations in 2015 that mandate the use of statutory mitigation measures.
These news laws resulted in bird sanctuary lines being widespread throughout the fleet, and the new study shows how effective the effective combination of grassroots engagement and solid regulations was.
Samantha Matjila, the Namibia ATF Team Leader at the Namibia Nature Foundation, said: “It’s really wonderful to see how bycatch in Namibia has decreased so much. Our waters are vital to many of the world’s threatened seabirds. To believe that our collaboration with all the ships and the fisheries managers has resulted in more than 22,000 birds being rescued each year is special. We hope that with the right government investments and support measures, low bycatch can be sustained in the future and that Namibia can serve as an inspiration for marine conservation at a time when it is urgently needed! “
Through the partnership with the local women’s group Meme Itumbapo, the Namibian team was also able to link the reduction of bycatch to the empowerment of women. The group has been building bird protection lines to sell to the fleet for over 6 years and recently signed an agreement to work with one of the largest fishing supplies companies in Walvis Bay to continue their work.
What is the next step?
Since albatrosses are very long-lived birds (some species breed well into the 1960s!), We need to ensure that the approaches developed by the Task Force are firmly embedded in the long-term management of the fishery. Titus Shaanika, Senior ATF Instructor in Namibia, comments, “The industry has done a remarkable job of reducing bycatch of seabirds in such a short amount of time. The big challenge now is to maintain these hard-earned reductions and to wear them as badges of honor – we can and must do more of them worldwide if we are to turn the tide against biodiversity loss. “
Speaking of badges of honor, the hake fishery recently received MSC certification as sustainable seafood and bycatch of birds was a key consideration in the assessment. The fishery has taken up some certification requirements – including the need to improve compliance with bird lines in the trawl fleet and ensure that robust data collection on bycatch continues, which shows that the fishery is not having an impact on vulnerable seabird populations.
These results are certainly current for other countries such as the UK, whose own national action plan to reduce seabirds bycatch is under development. A close relative of the albatross – the northern fulmar Fulmarus glacialis – is caught in the longline fishery off the north coast of Scotland.
Rory Crawford, Bycatch Program Manager for the BirdLife International Marine Program, highlighted the opportunity to follow the example shown in Namibia: “In the UK, there is a lot to learn from the success story in Namibia. The elements of commitment at sea, the examination of mitigation measures, strict regulations and very high observer coverage – 100% in some fleets – in Namibia could easily be carried over into our waters if the will and the resources can be found. So what are we waiting for? “
The Namibian team is the second of five ATF teams worldwide to achieve a reduction in seabird bycatch by more than 90% following a similar success in South Africa in 2014, where albatross bycatch in hake trawling was reduced by 95% Has. The aim is to demonstrate similar reductions in Argentina and Chile over the next two years and to further this important contribution to improving the conservation status of some of the world’s most notable yet threatened birds.