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 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 Albatross Task Force (ATF) is part of  BirdLife International’s Marine Programme and works in the world’s global bycatch ‘hot spots’ with industry to introduce practical measures that, once in use, rapidly reduce the mortality of seabirds. The ATF has been working with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Namibia since 2008 where we have demonstrated that the combined levels of seabird mortality for hake longline and trawl fisheries is around 30,000 seabirds per year, which is one of the highest levels of mortality in the world.

Below: ATF Instructor Kondja Amutenya on board a Namibian trawl vessel


The good news is that the ATF has also demonstrated that the adoption of simple and cost-effective mitigation measures in both these fisheries could reduce mortality to negligible levels. 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 will practically eliminates seabird bycatch. In the longline fleet, this measure in combination with line weighting to sink the hooks away from foraging birds and paired bird scaring lines, should reduce bycatch by over 95%.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has now taken a positive step toward reducing seabird bycatch in Namibia, by introducing new fishery regulations that will require all trawl and longline vessels to use bird scaring lines, and for longline vessels to use improved line weighting. These new regulations are expected to come into effect as of the 1st November 2014 and will drastically reduce the impact of these two fisheries on vulnerable seabirds.

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.

Below: Kondja Amutenya setting up mitigation measures with trawl vessel crew in preparation for the new regulations. Image Sarah Yates

  • What excellent work the Albertros Task Force are doing. In just a few years the work they have done is outstanding. Lets hope long-line fishernen throughout the World will adopt to the weight and streamer system. A pat on the back to our BirdLife partners. Mike Cleary