Mitigating Seabird Bycatch with Global Fishing Watch

Global Fishing Watch has changed the way conservation scientist Stephanie Winnard does business. For the first time, she’s able to remotely perform comprehensive evaluations on fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zones she studies. 

An estimated 100,000 albatross drown every year in longline and trawl fisheries worldwide. In fact, 15 of 22 albatross species are threatened with extinction, and bycatch, or the incidental catch of non-target species in fisheries, is one of the principal causes.

Stephanie Winnard at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and BirdLife International works to mitigate seabird bycatch, and Global Fishing Watch is helping her do that. In order to measure bycatch, she needs to know where vessels are fishing and where they are likely to interact with seabirds..

Winnard is part of the Albatross Task Force (ATF), a team of seabird mitigation experts that work with local partner organizations, fishermen, and governments to limit seabird bycatch all over the world. She is currently working on projects in seven countries, from Africa to South America. ATF’s efforts have already resulted in a 99 percent albatross bycatch reduction in the South African hake trawl fishery, following the introduction of bird-scaring lines on vessels. Bird-scaring lines consist of colorful streamers attached to lines towed behind the vessel that scare birds away from dangerous cables or hooks. They aim to reduce bycatch by at least 80 percent in other countries they are working in.

Global Fishing Watch has been a game-changer for Winnard with respect to understanding where vessels are fishing. “Without this platform, it would be impossible for me to look at fishing activity in this way,” she says. Winnard is using the new report feature in Global Fishing Watch to download fishing activity data for the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) she is interested in. She first started evaluating fishing activity in South Africa and was surprised by her results.

“I found more fishing activity than expected. We have worked in this region for many years and are familiar with many of the vessels in Global Fishing Watch,” she remarks. “Global Fishing Watch fishing activity data, combined with our data on where seabirds are being caught and killed, can help us prioritize areas to focus on for seabird bycatch reductions.”

Next, Winnard will use Global Fishing Watch to evaluate fishing activity in other priority areas including the Namibian EEZ.

The BirdLife Marine Program also works on establishing Marine Important Bird Areas through analysis of seabird tracking data. Winnard is using our customization feature to import her own layer of existing Important Bird Areas into our map of fishing activity for comparison. She has also requested the ability to run a report for areas in a custom layer – a new feature we are now considering for inclusion in our map.