|Avian Demography Unit
Department of Statistical Sciences
University of Cape Town
ADU travels, expeditions and events
Assessing toothfish in Liverpool, and having a good tern
From 2-4 July I found myself in Liverpool, UK, where I participated in an assessment of the South Georgia longline fishery for Patagonian Toothfish. The four-person certification panel was appointed by Moody Marine to look at all aspects of the fishery in terms of the "eco-friendly" principles of the Marine Stewardship Council (www.msc.org). Moody Marine is a Liverpool-based company which has been certified by the MSC to undertake such evaluations, the toothfish fishery being the third it has undertaken to date.
I was the only member of the panel from the southern hemisphere and brought expertise about seabird bycatch in the fishery to the discussion. My involvement with CCAMLR (the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, www.ccamlr.org) also allowed me to help judge whether the fishery, managed by the Government of South Georgia and the Sound Sandwich Islands (SGSSI), a UK dependency, is sufficiently "green" enough to be awarded an MSC label. Such a label will allow the fish be sold to discerning shoppers who are concerned about overfishing of the stock as well as albatross bycatch (www.uct.ac.za/depts/stats/adu/seabirds).
During the four days we listened to presentations from an NGO, the Antarctic and Southern Coalition (www.asoc.org), and from MRAG, a London-based company that offers management advice to the fishery on behalf of the SGSSI Government, hearing their views on whether certification should take place. We then went through a very thorough scoring process (see the MSC web site for some background) before coming to a conclusion on whether the fishery should be certified or not. Our draft scores and report will now go out for independent peer review before the Board of Moody Marine makes a final decision. Of necessity, our findings, which are likely to have considerable commercial significance, must remain confidential until then.
As far as know, this is the first time the ADU has been involved with an environmental certification, so it represents yet another way that our combined expertise can work towards the conservation of species and their habitats.
After the intense sessions in Liverpool, conducted in a heat wave by English standards, I travelled by train and bus to visit the Farne Islands (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) with an old friend, Beau Rowlands, senior author of the Birds of St Helena, who now lives in Newcastle. The Farnes are a group of 28 small islands five to eight kilometres off the Northumberland coast Ferries run daily from the harbour at Seahouses. Two of the islands in the group are open to the public, Staple and Inner Farne, and we spent a few hours on each. Our seabird count ended up at 16 species, of which nine were seen breeding, mainly with young. I do not know of any other seabird colony in England where one can get such close views of unconcerned Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags and Kittiwakes, as well as dive-bombing Arctic and Common Terns (wear a hat!). I was pleased to watch Sandwich Terns feed their young, comparing their modus operandi with the similarly creching species of southern Africa, the Swift Tern. I learned that another name for the Common Eider is "Cuddy Duck", named after St Cuthbert, who lived on the Farnes from AD 676 to 684 and protected its seabirds. St Cuthbert's Chapel, originally built in the 14th century, still stands on Inner Farne, a far more attractive building with its stained glass windows than South African guano island buildings. Finally, a small flock of Purple Sandpipers mixed with Ruddy Turnstones added an up-to-now elusive wader to my life list.
Additional pleasures of my short UK visit was an evening stroll to the Cavern in Liverpool, where the Beatles first became famous (and a life-size bronze of John Lennon leans against the entrance), and to take early-morning runs along the Mersey in Liverpool and the Tyne in Newcastle, as well as missing a week of rainy Cape winter.