29 Jan 2020

Albatross Task Force in the Americas: working with fishers to design solutions

BirdLife's Albatross Task Force works with fishing crews on board their ships to introduce seabird-saving measures in focal countries. Here's an update of the programme's successes in the Americas.

Aves Argentinas staff demonstrate bird-safe measures to fishermen © Albatross Task Force
Aves Argentinas staff demonstrate bird-safe measures to fishermen © Albatross Task Force
By Esteban Frere, BirdLife Marine Programme (Americas)

The accidental ‘bycatch’ of birds by fisheries is a serious problem globally. It is the main cause of population declines in many seabirds, especially albatrosses and petrels, and South America is no exception. BirdLife International, together with the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and national Partners in focal countries, has developed the Albatross Task Force (ATF) program. The main objective of the ATF is to provide solutions to reduce seabird bycatch, and thus improve the conservation status of threatened seabirds.

Argentina

BirdLife Partner Aves Argentinas works on board trawl fisheries in the Argentine sea, where thousands of albatrosses and petrels die by getting tangled in fishing net cables. Thanks to the work of our team, in 2017 Argentina passed a law requiring trawl fisheries to use bird-scaring lines that prevent birds from colliding with cables. At present, the team is dedicated to rolling out this measure across national fisheries. To achieve this, they are training the crews of fishing vessels to build and install the lines correctly.

Chile

In Chile, we work with BirdLife partner CODEFF in two kinds of fisheries: trawl and purse seine. The Chilean trawl fishery suffers the same problem as in Argentina, and the solution is the same: last year, Chile passed a similar law making it mandatory for all trawl fisheries to use bycatch prevention measures.

Modified purse seine nets are saving Pink-footed Shearwaters (a Vulnerable species) © Mike Baird

In the purse seine fishery, where globally threatened seabirds such as the Pink-footed Shearwater Ardenna creatopus (Vulnerable) are captured, we also have the support of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Here, our work focuses on making changes to the nets, such as reducing excess material to reduce the likelihood of catching seabirds. So far we have had very encouraging results, and the fishermen themselves have been the key to our success. Our team works both with small-scale artisanal fleets and larger industrial fishing companies.

Brazil

We work with SAVE Brasil (BirdLife Partner) and Projeto Albatroz, a local NGO that has been collaborating with the ATF since 2006. In Brazil there are several priority fisheries, although the most urgent is longline fishing, which uses hooks to catch large fish such as tuna and swordfish.

Fortunately, thanks to the ATF, legislation has been in place for several years to avoid catching seabirds in longline hooks. There are three measures that prevent bird bycatch: bird-scaring lines, fishing at night when birds are not active, and adding weights to hook lines so that they sink faster and cannot be reached by birds.

Longline fisheries are the priority in Brazil © Albatross Task Force

Using all three measures simultaneously is the most effective strategy – however, some fishing crews are reluctant to use bird scaring lines, which create extra work. Our team is working with fishermen and the government to find a solution, although we would require an observer program aboard ships to know for sure whether crews are fully complying with the rules.

The Albatross Task Force has been working in South America for more than 10 years, and has made great progress towards reducing bird mortality in fisheries. The key is in regionally coordinated work (where local teams work together to help and advise each other), and working together with fishermen and industry to find solutions that can save the lives of thousands of seabirds every year.

Find out more about the Albatross Task Force here