Namibia takes positive steps to save 30,000 seabirds a year

By Shaun Hurrell, 7 Nov 2014

Following a meeting with the BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force, The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Namibia has introduced new fishery regulations which should practically eliminate seabird mortality from one of the most destructive fisheries in the world.

This is more excellent news for the Albatross Task Force (ATF) who have been working with the Ministry in Namibia since 2008, and have demonstrated that the combined levels of seabird mortality for their hake longline and trawl fisheries is around 30,000 seabirds per year, which is one of the highest levels in the world.

The ATF have demonstrated that adoption of simple and cost-effective mitigation measures in both these fisheries could reduce mortality to negligible levels.ATF Instructor Kondja Amutenya setting up</br>mitigation measures with trawl vessel crew</br>in preparation for the new regulations.</br>Image: Sarah Yates (ATF)

Incidental bycatch in fisheries constitutes the major threat for many vulnerable populations of seabirds. Globally 300,000 seabirds are killed in longline and trawl fisheries each year where they are hooked and drown on baited hooks or are struck by trawl cables and dragged under water. Approximately 100,000 of these birds are albatross, the most threatened family of birds with 15 of 22 species at risk of extinction.

The ATF is part of  BirdLife International’s Marine Programme and works in the world’s global bycatch ‘hot spots’ with industry to introduce tested practical measures that, once in use, rapidly reduce the mortality of seabirds.

In the trawl fleet the use of bird scaring lines with streamers that flap in the wind and scare birds away from the dangerous areas of a vessel is a simple solution that practically eliminates seabird bycatch. In the longline fleet, this measure in combination with line-weighting (sinks hooks away from foraging birds) and paired bird scaring lines, should reduce bycatch by over 95%.

The new fishery regulations introduced by the Ministry will require all trawl and longline vessels to use bird scaring lines, and for longline vessels to use improved line weighting. These new regulations came into effect on  1 November 2014 and will drastically reduce the impact of these two fisheries on vulnerable seabirds.The ATF team meeting with the Ministry of Fisheries</br>and Marine Resources in Namibia in August. Image: ATF

The fishing industry in Namibia, led by local fishing companies has been cooperative with the proposed conservation measures, with several companies already adopting voluntary use of the bird scaring lines. The introduction of regulations will ensure the simple measures are adopted across the whole fleet. Namibia already has high levels of observer coverage in their fisheries, which means it will be easy to identify compliance with these new regulations.

This provides an excellent example of how positive collaboration between conservation organisations, local government and responsible industry associations can make a huge contribution to sustaining global biodiversity and reducing our impact on the marine environment.

Related news: This is also great news for local Namibian women in Walvis Bay, whose home-made bird-scaring lines have started to be sold to the fisheries, generating them an income and greater gender-equality in the community:

The Albatross Task Force is an international conservation programme run by BirdLife International and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) which works with local NGOs in seabird bycatch hotspots to demonstrate to fishers how to use simple, effective measures that prevent seabird mortality. 

15 out of 22 species of albatross are threatened with extinction. Working closely with BirdLife Partners, we're working to stop the needless slaughter of these amazing birds and bring them back from the brink of extinction.

See the Albatross Task Force at work in our video: