Alliance contributes to the conservation of vulnerable seabirds

  • Post category:RFA News

The Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA) has introduced a new management mechanism to mitigate the risks to seabirds posed by commercial fishing operations.

Bird Mitigation Plans (BMPs) are currently implemented by each of the RFA’s 26 hake trawlers. It is expected to contribute immensely to diminishing seabird mortalities.

The decline of global seabirds in recent years has been largely attributed to the increased incidental mortalities caused by commercial fishing operations, including the impact on albatross species enlisted as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The implementation of bird scaring lines, commonly known as tori lines, across the fleet has dramatically reduced the number of seabirds killed during trawling operations. However, bird scaring lines are not the panacea of seabird mortalities and a number of threats to seabirds were still identified.

Bronwyn Maree, BirdLife South Africa’s Albatross Task Force Leader, noted that “the main threat to seabirds is the entanglement and subsequent drowning of the birds around the trawl cables (warps), while they are foraging behind the vessels (on fishery discards)”.

Russell Hall, Sea Harvest Trawl Division Manager and Chair of the RFA Seabird Bycatch Mitigation working group, explains: “The primary threat particularly to the larger birds is the potential collisions with the vessel’s trawl warps during fishing operations. The birds can be snagged on the trawl warp and drowned during the feeding frenzy that takes place around the stern of the vessel”.

In line with this need to further reduce the danger posed to seabirds by fishing operations, the RFA in collaboration with BirdLife South Africa proceeded to implement an innovative management system that would investigate and develop vessel-specific mitigation mechanisms attending to threats harboured by the RFA vessels.

The services of Barrie Rose, seabird consultant and one of South Africa’s most experienced seabirders, was acquired to undertake the task of developing BMPs for each of the vessels belonging to the RFA constituent companies. Rose boarded 15 vessel types belonging to the RFA and identified all possible instances where interactions between the fishing gear and seabirds may result in injury or mortality. In collaboration with vessel managers and sea-going staff, a practical set of solutions was developed to address environmentally harmful practices without compromising the vessels’ productivity.

The implementation of BMPs have yielded a number of successes including a change to the hake deep sea permit conditions to ensure that tori lines are deployed in a manner that more effectively reduces seabird mortalities. It also afforded shore based managers the opportunity to board vessels, interact directly with the sea-going cadre and obtain first-hand exposure to some of the challenges experienced at sea.

Maree praises the impacts made by BMPs adding that the project has “been a positive process as it has involved people from various levels in the fishing industry and allowed everyone to become involved and actively participate”. “It has created increased awareness on the ground (vessels) about seabirds and the positive solutions available that best suit everybody from the fishing industry and government to NGOs”, she says.

Hall reckons that central to the success of the BMP project is “the development of practical bird mitigating measures that have been observed to work at sea”. “BMPs were developed where it mattered; at sea, on the vessel with the full cooperation of the Skipper, his crew and the owners representative”. It is expected that the additional bird mitigating changes made over the last 18 months will further reduce seabird mortalities in the deep sea trawl sector, he says.

The benefits of the BMP project is set to be rolled out to the rest of deep sea trawl fleet as other companies seek to reduce their impact on marine birds.

**The RFA is a partnership between WWF-SA and I&J, Oceana Group, Sea Harvest and Viking Fishing.