3 Nov 2016

Training fishermen to prevent seabird deaths in Namibia

Yellow-nosed Albatross © Brian Gratwicke
Yellow-nosed Albatross © Brian Gratwicke
By Stephanie Winnard

Namibia has historically been one of the worst fisheries for seabird bycatch, responsible for the deaths of around 30,000 seabirds a year, including critically endangered albatross species. However those numbers could soon be dramatically reduced, as we reported in September, due to the introduction of new legislation. Here's how we will ensure the new law is fully enforced.

Fishing vessels now have to use ‘seabird safe’ measures such as bird scaring lines, night setting and line weighting. These measures have been proven to massively reduce seabird mortality in fisheries around the world. In South Africa use of these methods has successfully reduced albatross deaths by 99%, which is what we want to see happen in Namibia.

As with any regulation, it is only effective if the law is enforced, in this case with a fine of up to NAD 500,000 (£29,300), and up to 10 years imprisonment. There is a need to increase awareness of and education about seabird bycatch issues, mitigation requirements and options available to crews aboard fishing vessels.  

To ensure that this happens our Albatross Task Force (ATF) team in Namibia (part of the Namibian Nature Foundation) partnered up with the ATF team from BirdLife South Africa and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to deliver a two day training workshop to fishing industry stakeholders and to fisheries observers who will be on the front line ensuring compliance and preventing seabird deaths.  

Fisheries observers, industry and government representatives learning about seabird bycatch best practice mitigation measures © ATF 

New technologies (such as lumo leads and hook pods) were presented, which have the potential to be the all-in-one solution to seabird bycatch. These exciting devices, together with detailed information about their implementation in everyday fishing operations and their benefits for Namibia’s fleets and the country’s international reputation were well received by the attendees. The aim of this workshop was to build capacity in country for long term sustainability.

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The Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena and the Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos both forage extensively within Namibian waters and long line fishing is a significant cause of the poor conservation status of these, and other, seabird species.

Currently, much of Namibia’s Exclusive Economic Zone falls outside the area (south of 25°S) where tuna longline vessels are required by international convention to use two out of three seabird by-catch mitigation measures (bird-scaring lines, night setting or line weighting). It is therefore vitally important that these national laws are abided to in order to protect these seabirds from further reductions in population or even extinction.

Hannes Holtzhausen (Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Namibia), who has been instrumental in driving seabird conservation in Namibia, opened the meeting with these inspirational words: ‘The ministry is planning to implement an ecosystems approach to fisheries in the near future. I hope Namibia will become a leader in seabird-safe fisheries and have sustainable fisheries for the future. Namibia is a range state for six albatross and four petrel species and therefore has an obligation to protect these populations.’

96% of the participants agreed that the training had helped them improve their ability to effectively and efficiently implement seabird bycatch mitigation measure requirements, and 100% were interested in further training.

The success of the workshop can be summed up by some of the participants’ comments: ‘Training was very helpful and I learnt a lot’; ‘All observers must be trained to do these duties and record this type of data’; and ‘Let’s sustain the birds for future populations’.

Looking to the future more workshops are planned, with an aim of getting all national observers fully trained so that we can sustain these important seabirds for the future populations.

The Albatross Task Force is an initiative led by the RSPB for the BirdLife International Partnership and is a major part of the BirdLife International Global Marine Programme. The initiative involves work on the ground in eight countries including Argentina (hosted by Aves Argentinas), Brazil (Projeto Albatroz), Chile (CODEFF), Ecuador until 2013 (Aves y Conservación), Namibia (Namibia Nature Foundation), Peru (ProDelphinus), South Africa (BirdLife South Africa) and Uruguay (Proyecto Albatros y Petreles de Uruguay).