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The Albatross Task Force: Working With The Fishing Industry To Save Ocean Wanderers


Hundreds of thousands of seabirds are killed accidentally every year in commercial marine fisheries. This includes globally threatened species, such as an estimated 100,000 albatrosses. This bycatch of non-target species is a common side-effect of the fishing industry. The Albatross Task Force (ATF) is the world’s first international team of seabird bycatch mitigation instructors. Since 2006, it has successfully reduced the incidental bycatch of albatrosses, petrels and other seabirds in targeted fisheries, by introducing simple and practical fishing techniques and mitigation measures. Monitoring data verifies that these techniques do lead to major reductions in bycatch. The ATF works in bycatch “hotspots” such as South Africa, Namibia, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil and Peru, where locally employed instructors collaborate with fishing companies and associations, governments and national fisheries observer programmes. The ATF is led by the RSPB (BirdLife Partner in the UK) and BirdLife International; it is hosted by national NGOs and BirdLife National Partners in the Southern Hemisphere. These ATF host organizations include: Aves Argentinas (Argentina), Projeto Albatroz (Brazil), CODEFF (Chile), Namibia Nature Foundation (Namibia), BirdLife South Africa (South Africa), ProDelphinus (Peru) and Proyecto Albatros y Petreles – Uruguay (Uruguay). This case study on the ATF’s action in national water complements a further case study on bycatch mitigation on the high seas.

Problem, challenge or context: 

NBSAPs need to show how countries plan to address threats to their biodiversity, including seabirds, and including through implementation of biodiversity-related conventions. The NBSAP developed by Uruguay in 2016 provides an example of the way that the seabirds work can be incorporated into an NBSAP: National Target 6a is related to Aichi Target 6, and includes: “By 2017, assess the implementation of the National Plan of Action to Reduce Incidental Bycatch of Marine Birds in Uruguayan Fisheries.” NBSAPs could also show that the action on seabirds is involving different sectors and stakeholders; set out how these actions are being implemented; and indicate further steps, such as incorporating best practices for fishing into legislation.

The action to integrate the protection of seabirds into commercial fishing is directly relevant to the following international agreements:

  • Article 6(b) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which requires that parties “Integrate, as far as possible and as appropriate, the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity into relevant sectoral or cross-sectoral plans, programmes and policies."
  • The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, not least in terms of Strategic Goal A, which is to “Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society.”
  • Several Aichi Targets, such as Target 4 on sustainable consumption and production; Target 6 on aquatic ecosystems and avoiding adverse impacts of fisheries; and Target 12 on improving the conservation status of threatened species.
  • The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) is an agreement under the auspices of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). Almost all of the “bycatch hotspots” listed above are signatories to ACAP, which works jointly with the ATF on bycatch mitigation
Specific elements of components: 

Accidental bycatch kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds, including globally threatened species such as albatross. In long-line fisheries, vessels set a billion baited hooks each year. When seabirds attack baits, they can become hooked in the throat or beak, pulling them under water, where they drown. In trawl fisheries, birds scavenging on discarded fish behind the vessel are struck and dragged under by the cables towing the net. Albatrosses are particularly vulnerable as they are long lived, and not able to breed fast enough to keep up with this mortality rate. As a result, 15 out 22 species of albatross are listed as Globally Threatened.

The action taken: 

Locally employed ATF teams of skilled experts and instructors are based in the bycatch 'hotspots', where albatrosses come into contact with large and diverse longline and trawl fishing fleets. These ATF teams provide regular training workshops for the fishing industry on simple and practical techniques to reduce the impact of fisheries on seabirds (for example, streamers to scare birds away from lines, weights to keep baited hooks below the surface of the water, and setting longlines at night when birds are less active ). The ATF developed and tested these measures using experimental research, to provide the industry with best practices tailored for each individual fishery. ATF observers work at sea as well as at the port, so they can communicate directly to captains and crew, gather data on seabird bycatch rates, and monitor the efficacy and uptake of mitigation measures. This work at the local level is combined with policy advocacy at national level. ATF works in close collaboration with relevant government departments to develop and implement policies that make mitigation measures mandatory for all fishing vessels. There are periodic meetings with relevant government departments to present results of up-to-date research on mitigation measures. In order to help the industry and policy makers understand the various practical options for bycatch mitigation, BirdLife and ACAP produced a series of 15 Seabird Bycatch Mitigation Factsheets. These describe and assess a range of mitigation measures to reduce seabird bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries. Further policy advocacy work with intergovernmental bodies is described in a separate case study.

Key lessons learned: 

A combination of dialogue, capacity building, experimental research and technical solutions to mitigate impact and economic incentives has led to the success seen today. Support from governments for activities in port and on board was essential, as was the introduction of regulations that make mitigation measures mandatory. The development of a working relationship between the ATF and the fishing industry based on transparency and trust was a gradual process, which depended on the following: 

  • A collaborative approach with the fishing industry – from an early stage – was crucial to provide feedback and professional guidance in the development of technical and operational measures.

  • Wherever possible the ATF used locally employed experts with prior knowledge of the fishing industry.

  • It was crucial to provide early and continued demonstration that seabird bycatch mitigation measures have no negative effect on catch rate of target species.

  • Engagement strategies took into consideration the differences between fleets and fisheries. For example, where there is a small fleet based in a single port with a high level of predictability, port visits and workshops are easier to organise and conduct than for a large fleet associated with a diverse system of harbours and a low predictability of fleet presence.

  • Spreading awareness of the increasing demand from consumers for fish caught in a sustainable way encourages industry to adopt best practices for sustainable fishing techniques. Helping fisheries prepare for certification through bodies such as the Marine Stewardship Council has been a driving factor for mitigation uptake.

Impacts and outcomes: 

The ongoing monitoring by ATF teams has demonstrated the impact of best practice mitigation measures at sea and in ports. Data from monitoring of seabird populations and bycatch rates before and after the introduction of these techniques has shown repeatedly that correctly deployed and configured suites of mitigation measures can reduce seabird bycatch by over 95%. Where national regulations have been introduced and enforced, the bycatch reduction has been achieved at a fleet level. For example, in the South African hake trawl fishery, deployment of streamer lines has been made compulsory, with the uptake of these measures monitored by Compliance Officers, trained by the ATF. This complements stronger monitoring of Asian vessels licensed to catch tuna within South African waters. In April 2014, BirdLife South Africa reported that for all seabirds the reduction of bycatch is of the order of 95%, and 99% fewer mortalities for albatrosses in the demersal hake trawl fishery. In Brazil, in 2011, new fishery regulations based on ATF research results were passed to make mitigation measures compulsory across the longline fishery. The ATF is now collaborating with industry to implement measures on all vessels, and assess their impact.

Contact details: 
Oli Yates, Albatross Task Force Programme Manager,
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