Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) endorses sustainable development, the conservation of biological diversity and natural ecosystems as well as the wise and ethical use of natural resources for the benefit of all Namibians both present and future, and it is in this spirit that it engages conservation challenges not only on land but also across the marine environment, through working with various maritime stakeholders regarding marine conservation issues. NNF contributes to the conversation and supports initiatives on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), the Blue Economy and Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF). Among others, here is a story of NNF’s successful contribution to marine conservation through working with the fishing industry, by advocating for an EAF starting with conserving seabirds.
Albatrosses, petrels and gannets are a common site in Namibian fishing grounds. Birds travel long distances from islands in the southern African coast and sub-Antarctic islands as their foraging range overlaps with fishing grounds in the productive Benguela current. Namibia has an intensive fishing industry landing 500 000 tons of fish per year, the industry targets among others species such as tuna, horse mackerel, monk and hake, with the hake fishery being the most profitable fishery in Namibia bringing in over N$ 30 billion a year and, employs over 10 000 people. The TAC for the 2020/ 2021 fishing season was set at 160 000 MT. Fish are caught using two fishing gear types: longlines (vessels using baited hooks attached to a fishing line) and trawls (steel cables which drag nets through the water to catch fish). These vessels process their catch at sea which entails beheading and gutting the fish and throwing the off cuts back into the ocean.
When baited hooks on longline vessels are set, or when off cuts are thrown from trawl vessels, large flocks of seabirds are attracted to the free meal on offer. This includes the Cape Gannet, albatrosses and petrels, many of which are endangered. As the birds aggregate around the vessel, they can fall prey to being accidentally captured – either through being caught and drowned on the hooks as they try to snatch baits, or through collisions with the thick steel cables (warp cables) dragging the trawl nets through the water as they attempt to gobble up fish heads and guts. The Albatross Task Force (ATF), an international team of seabird bycatch conservationists estimated in 2010 that around 30 000 seabirds were being killed this way in Namibian waters every year, making the hake fishery the world’s deadliest for seabirds at the time. The ATF is found in five countries namely, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Namibia and Brazil.
Birdlife South Africa, who already had an established Albatross Task Force (ATF) team since 2005, was concerned about the possibility of seabird bycatch mortality off Namibia, given that Namibia and South Africa share the Benguela current and have similar fisheries that overlap with the foraging range of seabirds. Thus, after several conclusive trials by ATF South Africa on trawl and longline vessels off Namibia, the seabird bycatch problem in Namibia was raised. In this light, Namibia Nature Foundation and together with Birdlife South Africa, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), formed the ATF Namibia project. The NNF is recognized as Namibia’s leading conservation and sustainable development organization hence why it was fitting to host the project, providing financial management, qualified personnel and technical support, with the ultimate and collective goal of reducing the seabird bycatch mortality rate in the Hake fishery and improving the conservation status of seabirds.
To tackle this problem, the ATF Namibia team managed by the NNF worked with the fleet to test and demonstrate simple measures that can substantially reduce bycatch – most notably bird-scaring lines, which flap around behind vessels and keep birds away from the hooks and trawl cables. The ATF team then advocated for the widest possible uptake of these measures, such that in 2015, the government made the use of bird scaring lines mandatory for all hake vessels, a move welcomed across the stakeholder spectrum. This cooperation between the NNF and ATF and the fishing industry stakeholders, has supported and led to, two major successes:
- Namibian hake fishery getting Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in November 2020 (https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/namibia-hake-trawl-and-longline-fishery/@@assessments), which means the hake fishery is: 1) sustainably managing its fish stocks, 2) minimising environmental impacts and 3) effectively managed. This altogether means that Namibian hake products have improved shelf visibility, access to new and secure markets worldwide, which ultimately protects livelihoods through improved sale prices and making Namibia the second fishery to get MSC certification in Africa.
- The recent publication by the ATF, released in Elsevier’s biological conservation journal in December 2020, ‘Reduction in seabird mortality in Namibian fisheries following the introduction of bycatch regulation’, shows that the seabird mortality has been significantly reduced by 98% in the longline fleet. Which previously killed 22 000 seabirds a year, in comparison to the trawl vessels which previously were responsible for 8 000 seabird deaths, recorded 54% less deadly interaction, a commendable achievement but one that leaves room for improvement. For a country that is already internationally renowned for its terrestrial conservation successes. This publication puts Namibia in a strong position to become a trend setter in Marine conservation worldwide too.
The fishing industry represented by the Namibian Hake Association together with the ATF hosted a stakeholder workshop in November 2019, with the intention to further reduce seabird interactions with warp cables. During the workshop two potential solutions were discussed: discard management and the installation of extension arms on the trawl vessels. Discard management involves either stopping the discarding process just during the net setting process or packaging some of the discards for landing on shore, for consumption, bait or fishmeal, however discard management proved to be a challenging option. Thus the stakeholders agreed on the installation of extension arms on vessels that will enable setting of bird scaring lines with ease, currently trials are being carried out to see the effectiveness of these extension arm, due to COVID-19, the ATF team has not been able to access fishing vessels.
The Namibian team is currently led by Samantha Matjila, NNF’s Marine Coordinator; a women passionate about marine conservation issues and very proud to have been part of this great achievement. Alongside Samantha is Titus Shaanika, the ATF’s senior instructor, who feels a great sense of achievement having contributed to the conservation of seabirds, but even more so having contributed to the health of the world oceans. Since its introduction in Namibia in 2008, the team has seen several of hard working conservationist such as, John Patterson, Kasper Shimoshili, Clemens Naomab, Kondja Amutenya, Sarah Yates, Melody Lilongwe and the late Ismael Kavela, have all been involved in the project at different capacities over the years, have all greatly contributed to the current success of the ATF.
The next step is to make sure that the approaches developed by the ATF are hard-wired into the long-term management of the hake fishery, with the hope of having a spillover effect for other fisheries such as the monk, horse mackerel and pelagic longline. Albatrosses are long-lived birds (some species breed into their 60s), so conservation efforts need to be sustained over time, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14: life below the water. The NNF will continue providing the necessary, technical and financial management support to the ATF.