Albatross Task Force
South Africa and Brazil
Avid bird watchers span the globe to see albatrosses and petrels in their natural habitats. Unfortunately, these seabirds are extremely vulnerable to large scale fishing efforts. The tuna and swordfish longline fisheries throughout the Southern Hemisphere have caused significant seabird deaths as they dive on baited hooks, become entangled in fishing gear, or are drawn underwater and drown.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) estimates that an alabtross dies in a fishery every five minutes. The Atlantic coasts of Brazil and South Africa have been identified as seabird bycatch hotspots, due to the high overlap between fisheries and albatrosses from the Southern Ocean foraging in these waters. The fisheries operating in these areas are the deadliest fisheries for seabirds in the world. The preservation of the albatross and petrel species depends on a number of factors – science, monitoring, adaptation of commercial practices, and stewarding local communities to care for these species.
Currently, Planeterra is funding work being done in Brazil and South Africa, both of which are important foraging areas and bycatch hotspots for the albatross species. Through RSBP the teams will continue to work with fleets in both South Africa and Brazil to ensure adoption of these bird saving measures. They are also examining ways to increase the sink rates of longline hooks in order to get them out of reach of foraging seabirds faster. They will monitor seabird bycatch as well as bycatch mitigation compliance levels in nationwide fleets. The teams hope to identify the most cost effective means to reduce bycatch and research tools necessary for fleetwide adoption. Instructors will also deliver workshops to law enforcement agents and industry stakeholders on saving the seabirds.
Funds raised on the G Expedition ship go towards Planeterra’s Ocean Health Fund which is currently funding work being done in Brazil and South Africa, both of which are important foraging areas and bycatch hotspots for the albatross species.
Funds raised on the G Expedition in 2018 went towards the trialling of the Hookpods program, an effort to reduce seabird bycatch using an innovative technology during fishing. Since the first batch of Hookpods arrived in Brazil, the Albatross Task Force team has been all hands on-deck (literally!) getting the trials up and running. So far, 1,080 Hookpods have been fitted onto a commercial longline vessel in Rio Grande (southern Brazil) and our instructors have spent a total of 36 days monitoring their effectiveness at-sea. The results are looking really good, with zero seabirds caught on the 22,961 hooks observed and just a few technical complications.
In the past Planeterra has funded several research and conservation programs through our partner, Birdlife International. This included trials in the Australian tuna and billfish fishery to develop seabird-friendly fishing gear with the Australian Antarctic Division and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority in collaboration with Mr. Nick Williams, owner/operator of the tuna fishing vessel Samurai. Planeterra also funded an aerial monitoring program chartering a twin otter aircraft that was used to photograph albatross colonies and count the number of breeding pairs. In October 2011, Planeterra provided funds to Birdlife International to foster capacity training and stewardship to support the development of young South American seabird scientists through their PhD programs on seabird ecology. Planeterra also supported the field studies of two Chilean university students.
Both the investment in development of seabird-friendly fishing gear and the capacity building of scientific experts work to create long-term opportunities to save the lives of seabirds and strategically improve the way they are protected. It is the hope that, in the future, the trained scientist will use their skills and experience to become involved in working groups that preside over issues affecting the conservation of Southern Ocean seabirds. They will act as agents of change for seabirds in their region and globally.
The work in South Africa has already secured albatross bycatch reductions of up to 99% in the demersal trawl fishery by ensuring fleet-wide adoption of bird-scaring lines (which act as scare-crows-at-sea) keeping seabirds at a safe distance from lethal fishing gear.