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34,000 seabirds killed annually in Africa’s Benguela Current

More Long-lining Tragedy

BirdLife South Africa and WWF South Africa have released a report that for the first time assesses the impact of longline fishing on vulnerable species foraging in the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem, a rich and biodiverse ecosystem that stretches up the west coast of South Africa and the entire of the Namibian and Angolan coasts. The report estimates that as many as 34,000 seabirds, 4,200 sea turtles, and over 7 million demersal and pelagic sharks, rays and skates are killed annually. The five migrant pelagic seabird species occurring in the Benguela Current that are most susceptible to the impacts of fishing operations are Black-browed Albatross Thallasarche melanophris, Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross T. chlororhynchus and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross T. carteri, (all Endangered), Shy Albatross T. cauta (Near Threatened) and White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis (Vulnerable). Also seriously affected is the Cape Gannet Morus capensis, a Benguela endemic now listed as Vulnerable. “This report provides a platform from which informed decisions can be made that will reduce the impact on these threatened species in the region,” says Samantha Petersen, manager of BirdLife South Africa's Seabird Programme and the WWF Responsible Fisheries Programme, and author of papers in the report covering the impact on seabirds, and on measures to mitigate seabird mortality. The report also provides practical recommendations, such as the use of tori or bird-scaring lines with attached streamers which scare birds away from the baited hooks until they are under the water. Other measures which are simple to implement include the use of thawed rather than frozen bait and sufficiently weighted lines – both of which increase the sink rate of the main line; and setting the lines over the side of the boat, so that the hooks and bait are fully submerged by the time they reach the stern, where the birds congregate.The report makes specific recommendations for the three countries involved. In South Africa, a critical concern is the low level of compliance with fisheries permit conditions, which require fishers to use bird-scaring lines –although in an encouraging development, a South African vessel was recently fined R2,500 ($350 USD) for failing to use them. In Namibia, “bycatch” mitigation needs to be included in fishing regulations. In Angola, where artisanal fishermen deliberately catch Cape Gannets and White-chinned Petrels for food, efforts should be focused on developing alternative sustainable livelihoods for coastal communities.

“The project has also been active in raising the level of awareness about this issue within the fishing industry, with workshops and training programmes,” says Petersen. Petersen says the findings of the report need to be taken seriously by the governments of South Africa, Namibia, and Angola, as well as relevant intergovernmental regional fisheries organisations, as part of their commitment to implement a new Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF) by 2010. She explains: “An EAF recognises the need to adopt an ecological approach which considers impacts on both the target and non-target species, as well as direct or indirect ecosystem effects of fishing operations.” And she concludes: “Only by maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem can we ensure the sustainability of our fisheries and the survival of our vulnerable marine life.”

One the co-authors of the report, Maria Honig, previously with BirdLife South Africa, has worked as a specialised observer, and presented workshops for fisherman. You can read her diary, along with those of other members of the Albatross Task Force, at http://www.savethealbatross.net The full report is available online from BirdLife South Africa

4th July 2014