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Our vast oceans cater to an array of species, feeding and sustaining various creatures within its blue depths, as well as winged wildlife in the sky. Human populations also benefit from its waters, from fresh fish and seafood to take-away hake and chips.  

Take a moment to reflect on the commercial fisheries that feed millions of people every day, but also consider the impacts of the fishing industry on marine ecosystems – and the power that this industry has to play in protecting our oceans.

With World Fisheries Day on 21 November, fishing communities and fish enthusiasts worldwide will celebrate and highlight the importance of maintaining the world’s fisheries. World Fisheries Day draws attention to overfishing, habitat destruction and other serious threats to the sustainability of aquatic life, as well as human life. There is a call for us to ensure that fisheries and ocean resources are here tomorrow.

A hake fishing trawler © Sea Harvest
A hake fishing trawler © Sea Harvest

While all elements of an ecosystem need to be protected, seabirds are in fact one of the world’s most threatened groups of birds in the world. And the iconic albatross, the largest of the seabirds, is one of the most endangered groups of animals on the planet, with 15 of the 22 albatross species threatened with extinction.

Many seabirds face accidental death when they follow fishing trawlers in search of an easy meal, often becoming trapped in the cables holding the nets on certain fishing vessels. Albatrosses tend to scavenge on heads, guts and non-target fish discarded by such fishing vessels and hence collide with these trawl cables. Birds that become entangled in the cables are then dragged underwater and drown.

A study released by BirdLife South Africa last year indicated that in 2008, about 10,000 seabirds, many of them albatrosses, were accidentally being killed as a result of commercial fishing activities.


The industry, in collaboration with BirdLife South Africa, responded swiftly and implemented the mandatory use of bird-scaring lines, known as tori lines. The introduction of these tori lines in the trawl fishery sector has dramatically reduced the number of albatrosses killed accidentally each year through fishing – an incredible reduction of more than 90% in seabirds and 99% in albatrosses. Today, fewer than 1,000 accidental seabird deaths occur each year.

A hake trawler with tori ines © Peter Chadwick
A hake trawler with tori lines ©Peter Chadwick

This is one of those great unknown success stories – environmental innovation happening far out at sea – of collaboration between conservation and a commercial industry.

This research into the hake trawl fishery, and its impact on albatrosses, came about from collaborative work between BirdLife South Africa, major companies in the trawl industry and WWF South Africa, who together form the Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA). The RFA was developed to promote healthy marine ecosystems for the continued ecological, social and economic benefits to all South Africans.


You can support the great work that WWF South Africa and Birdlife South Africa are doing to conserve our oceans by getting a MyPlanet card and selecting them as your beneficiaries.

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This summer, when you find yourself gazing out at the ocean to watch the sunset, or while you’re tanning on the beach or eating your hake and chips at the harbour, take a moment to consider the large trawlers bobbing out at sea, the marine life that will feed millions, as well as our endangered and unique seabirds, and how what we eat and those that fly in the sky are all connected.

A rescued albatros © WWF South Africa
A rescued albatross © WWF South Africa

4 fascinating facts about the albatross:

– The average age of an albatross is 40 years, while some can live up to 60 years

– Maximum weight of an albatross is 14 kg

– The albatross has the longest wingspan of all birds – up to 3.4 metres

– The name albatross is derived from ‘alcatraz’, the Portuguese word for seabird

5 interesting facts about the hake trawl fishery:

– The hake trawl industry is South Africa’s most economically valuable fishery and has been active for over 100 years

– The ‘hake trawl’ fishery gets its name by the method of fishing as the vessels use tow, or trawl, nets along the ocean floor to target fish that spend the day on the seabed

– A vessel can catch as many as 16 tonnes of hake in a single trawl net

– Hake is the only fishery in South Africa that is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which works with partners to encourage sustainable fishing practices

– Since MSC certification in 2004, the hake trawl fishery has increasingly been involved in striving to reduce its impacts on the ecosystem

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