17 Mar 2015

Namibia on-board with BirdLife to end seabird bycatch in world’s worst fishery

One of many Namibian longline fishing vessels that are implementing measures to eliminate seabird bycatch, thanks to our Albatross Task Force. Photo: John Paterson
By Shaun Hurrell

“Namibia stands at the threshold of moving, in very short time, from being the worst country in the world for seabird bycatch, to the very best”,

said Oliver Yates, BirdLife International’s Global Albatross Task Force Coordinator.

In Namibian waters alone, more than approximately 30,000 seabirds are estimated killed every year due to long-line and trawl fishing, meaning the boats setting out from the fishing port at Walvis Bay are among the most destructive in the world for accidental seabird bycatch.

Since 2008, our Albatross Task Force (ATF) researchers and instructors have stepped on-board these boats with fishermen and demonstrated that a few, very simple and extremely cheap measures can be used, that can all but eliminate seabird bycatch. One example we have been awarded for in neighbouring South Africa is the use of bird-scaring lines to keep birds away from death by entanglement.

Following huge successes for BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force in Namibia, the ATF recently held a workshop in Walvis Bay to consider how they can best support Namibia’s fisheries to address their seabird bycatch problems and will be heading out to sea again to provide practical training to crews.

Namibian government, fishermen and industry on-board

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The ATF in Namibia aims to end seabird bycatch. Image: John Paterson

After a meeting with the Albatross Task Force, the Namibian government initiated the introduction of new regulations that make mandatory the use of measures to avoid seabird bycatch. However, in advance of the promulgation of regulations, the hake trawl association already began voluntary implementation of the ATF’s recommendations. This is a highly commendable and proactive outcome that equates to over 60% of long-line vessels and 10% of trawl vessels in the hake fishery voluntarily using bird-scaring lines. With continued collaborative work these fisheries are on track to achieve full coverage of its fleet in the near future.

Speaking after the latest workshop, Oliver Yates says:

“The response from government departments, observers and the fishing industry to the ATF’s findings and recommendations has been remarkably open and collaborative. These are key ingredients to achieving significant, lasting conservation for seabirds.”

The meeting involved fishing industry representatives, fishing captains, fisheries observers and Fishery Observer Agency managers, the ATF and BirdLife International representatives, and other stakeholders.

Dr Hannes Holtzhausen, from the Namibia Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, said:

“Namibia is a globally important region for seabirds. At the same time, the fishing industry provides jobs and earns foreign exchange for the country. It is very encouraging that the fishing industry can be supported to become seabird-friendly, without costing jobs or losing productivity.”

In fact, recently the ATF in Namibia helped create jobs for women in Walvis Bay by kickstarting the production of bird-scaring lines by a local women’s group using donated funds from the local port authority, Namport. The group is now awaiting the next shipment of materials to build the remaining bird-scaring lines for the fleet. “We hope to create a sustainable supply that ensures the fishery is using these bird-scaring lines and benefitting the local women”, said Oliver.

Observers to ensure regulations are upheldATF Instructor Kondja Amutenya setting up</br>bird-scaring lines with trawl vessel crew.</br>Image: Sarah Yates (ATF)

Namibia is a world-leader in implementing an almost 100% fisheries observer coverage on its fishing vessels. This provides an important opportunity: observers who have been suitably trained can potentially collect valuable information on the effectiveness of mitigation measures, compliance with regulations etc.

Next steps therefore involve training. Training observer agencies and, focusing on working with vessels that don’t yet have experience of using seabird bycatch mitigation measures, getting out on the boats again to provide practical training to crew during production fishing.

Albatrosses are the most highly threatened group of birds on earth. Fishing plays a large role in that situation. In response to the alarming decreases in many albatross populations, BirdLife International created the Albatross Task Force (ATF), to identify hotspots where seabirds and fisheries interact, and where local teams of experts could help fisheries to reduce accidental seabird bycatch.

The Albatross Task Force is an initiative led by the  RSPB (BirdLife in the UK)  for the BirdLife International Partnership and is a major part of the BirdLife International Global Marine Programme. 

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.

Thanks to the Namibian Nature Foundation for hosting the ATF in-country team.