My last trip was aboard a vessel that prides itself on doing everything possible to reduce seabird bycatch ~ the FV Harvest Nandi. I was highly impressed with the attitudes and knowledge of the entire crew – from the skipper to the factory men, deckhands to engineers – they were all conscious about seabirds and the importance of preventing endangered species’ extinctions. I think this stems from direct and constant involvement of BirdLife South Africa with the industry, right down to the sea-going staff and particularly this vessel, as we have used it as a boat for experiments.

Between my observations, I catch up with the crew in the Mess room and eat fresh fish. “How are your birds doing?” they ask, and how it’s possible to count them all – there are hundreds! It’s easy “one, two, three…one hundred!” We joke and after a few days they get more comfortable with me. The interactions with the people on the boats are great. One day the first mate, with a huge grin, asked “Chrissie, how many bird species do you see?”  I counted 11, and the mate jumped up, mockingly pointed to the Boson and laughed out loud “he thinks there’s only 4!” It’s true, there are 4 main groups (albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, skuas), but several species. These moments are great to show the crew how to identify a black-browed albatross vs. a shy albatross, and once they feel more comfortable, they come with many questions about the birds. It’s a great grassroots learning platform.

Below: Preparing to take species abundance counts as seabirds follow the trawler. Image Chrissie Madden

In the Mess Room, I spoke to the Chief Engineer, “Dulla”. “Before BirdLife came and spoke to us, we weren’t concerned about the birds. Hulle is net voels, they are just birds. But now we have been educated and we are aware of them. This is South Africa’s wildlife, and each animal has its protector. You can’t just shoot a rhino, it has its protector. All wildlife in South Africa has a protector.” Dulla showed deep understanding of the ethos of conservation and went on to describe how he and his crew are contributing towards conserving seabirds. “The Tori Lines are easy and we always use the Rory Lines*, and we see it works. If the Rory Line is up [i.e. not deployed], some birds go to the stern.  But the Rory Line doesn’t hurt the birds, it’s not heavy so the straps don’t push the birds down. Before the Tori Lines, a bird would get stuck in the net or cable, and there was nothing you can do about it. But now this doesn’t happen anymore.” I was touched. This highlighted the importance of long-term relationships and personal engagements with the very people who are in charge of responsible fishing practices. I could see the crew were fond of BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force, they understood our mandate, that education and awareness is empowering, and they were proud to be fishermen.

Below: The Rory Line is an additional mitigation measure attached to the side of the vessel, near the scupper where discards enter the water. The use of these are voluntary. Image Chrissie Madden.