(This article first appeared in the BirdLife South Africa E-newsletter in May 2014. - Ed.)
Conservation success stories are hard to find. Rarely are they the result of simple, elegant solutions that are truly win-win. Excitement peaked on Tuesday, 30 April when BirdLife South Africa publicised its overwhelming success in reducing seabird bycatch since its involvement in the Deep-Sea Trawl Fishery. The results are dramatic, with overall seabird mortality decreasing by an astounding 90%, and by 99% for albatrosses alone.
The success lies in the transformation of the fishing industry as it strove to be more conservation-minded when it achieved Marine Stewardship Council certification in 2004. This is an eco-label that assesses a fishery based on stock status, environmental impacts and the monitoring and compliance with fishing regulations. Following certification, the first seabird observations aboard local trawlers were conducted and an unrealised, yet deadly, threat to our seabirds was revealed – the unintentional and accidental death by trawl cable collisions. Unlike longliners, where seabirds are retrieved on deck after being hooked and drowned, trawl mortalities were largely unidentified as the birds detach from the cables and sink out of sight. In 2008 it was estimated that 18 000 birds were dying in this fishery each year.
Once this issue was raised, dedicated BirdLife observers, in partnership with the trawl fishing industry, have ensured that these risks have been addressed. Essentially, the implementation of one simple, practical and efficient mitigation measure – bird scaring (tori) lines – has resulted in this drastic reduction, and within 10 years this particular threat to one of the most endangered bird groups worldwide has been reduced to insignificant levels in South African waters. The quick response of the industry and its continued cooperation has shown that positive and dramatic results for conservation can be achieved in a relatively short space of time.
Chrissie Madden, Albatross Task Force ,