Saving seabirds, empowering women: the Albatross Task Force gains momentum

Kondja Amutenya, Albatross Task Force instructor out at sea in Namibia
By Shaun Hurrell, Fri, 18/07/2014 - 09:53

Our Albatross Task Force were recently recognised for their efforts that have saved 99% of albatrosses from death in a major fishery in South Africa. Now across the border, momentum continues to gather for seabird conservation in Namibia. Rather than official recognition with awards, this time it is personal recognition shown by the actions of local people that are causing Albatross Task Force instructors to beam with pride.

In Namibian waters alone, more than 30,000 seabirds are drowned every year due to long-line and trawl fishing, making these fisheries some of the most destructive in the world. We have devised, and been awarded for, a simple solution – techniques to scare birds away from death by entanglement (such as bird-scaring lines). Now in Namibia, fishermen are voluntarily using bird-scaring lines on their boats, a testament to the work of our Namibian Albatross Task Force.

This is not only incredible news for seabirds which, as we have seen in South Africa, will now almost entirely avoid accidental drowning on these boats. But this is great news for local Namibian women in Walvis Bay too, 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.

A force for saving seabirds, a task of attracting people

Consider how many hours Albatross Task Force instructors spend riding the waves on local fishing vessels, testing and finding these solutions. Consider their interaction with the captains, whose two main concerns are keeping their crew safe and to increase the catch rate of their target fish species. Consider their education efforts, based on sound scientific evidence, to inform the fishing community of the mitigation measures that protect seabirds.

In order to repel seabirds away from danger, first you have to spend a lot of effort to attract people to the issue.

So for the Namibian fishermen to be using bird-scaring lines voluntarily, this is huge. It means they have learnt that each bird caught on a hook potentially represents one less fish on that hook. It means they are improving their chances of their fishery being awarded a sustainable certification (we help them document the reduction in seabird by-catch). It means that when the ocean gets rough, they are still thinking about albatrosses.

“This represents a huge positive shift in momentum for seabird conservation, and the fact that it is 100% due to Albatross Task Force efforts is really encouraging,”

said Oliver Yates, Albatross Task Force Coordinator.

A total of 13 trawlers (about 15% of the trawl fleet in Namibia) have now purchased tori lines for voluntary use on their vessels, as well as 3 demersal long-line vessels (about 25% of the fleet). Steel weights that keep hooks out of the reach of albatrosses - funded by a Lucile and Packard Foundation project - are now in production for the longline fleet.

“Voluntary implementation is happening!” said Oli.

“There is a long way to go in terms of the practicalities of getting the mitigation into action on the vessels, but a lot of the hard work is already done.”

Saving seabirds is also empowering women

Women from local group, Meme Itumbapo,</br>standing proudly with their hand-built bird-scaring lines, ready for sale in Walvis Bay, Namibia

Earlier this year the Albatross Task Force in Namibia developed a project to work with a local women’s empowerment group in Walvis Bay to manufacture and supply bird-scaring lines for the longline and trawl fisheries of the country. Currently represented by five women whose only income was from selling jewellery made from seas shells, the local group called Meme Itumbapo have already built bird-scaring lines for 10% of the Namibian fleet.

Following training and the provision of equipment and materials by the Albatross Task Force, and with the announcement of £20,000 support from the Namport Social Investment Fund, the project will generate opportunities for Meme Itumbapo women and more with no formal education and limited employment options. Their hand-built, quality-assured, local, affordable lines will be flying off the back of more and more Namibian fishing boats in the next two years.

The lines not only prevent birds getting snagged on hooks or in nets, but flag for Namibia a vision of protected biodiversity, local economic empowerment and for greater gender equality.

On a roll in Namibia

The at-sea demonstrations and education work the Albatross Task Force undertakes does not just apply to local fishermen: we also lobby governments and fisheries for new regulations.

The new fishing permit conditions we helped draft, including technical guidelines for mitigation measures, have been signed by the Permanent Secretary for Fisheries. And next month, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Namibia will meet with BirdLife to discuss their National Plan of Action for Seabirds and how we can help support the implementation of mitigation measures.

 “We are confident of a positive outcome in the meeting, and look forward to working with the fleet to extend mitigation use onto all vessels,” said Oli.

With a lot of the hard work done in Namibia and support from local people, Albatross Task Force instructors have every reason to be smiling confidently as they head out to sea again.


The Albatross Task Force is an initiative led by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) for the BirdLife International Partnership.

Seventeen out of 22 species of albatross are threatened with extinction. The main threat to albatrosses is death at the end of a hook on a fishing long-line.
Working closely with BirdLife Partners in the Southern Ocean, 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: 


Worldwide Namibia Local Empowerment

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