Reducing Food Insecurity for the African Penguin

SANCCOB’s work has always focused on species survival but as large-scale marine ecosystem threats such as overfishing have started to affect the survival of endangered seabirds, SANCCOB recognises the need and urgency to halt the decline of pelagic fish stocks.

SANCCOB’s Leiden Conservation Fellow, Dr Lauren Waller, says “We are honoured to have the opportunity to provide a scientific voice as an observer on the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Small Pelagic Scientific Working Group. SANCCOB is also part of the working groups of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).” DAFF is responsible for setting the annual fishing quotas whereas the DEA is responsible for biodiversity conservation in South Africa. “African penguins feed mainly on small pelagic fish, primarily sardine and anchovy, both of which are targeted by the commercial small pelagic fishery in South Africa.” This fishery is optimally exploited according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa.

Research has shown that juvenile African penguins mistakenly choose the fish depleted seas that were once teeming with life, resulting in fewer endangered seabirds surviving their first year. Fish stocks need to be protected for birds to survive their first years at sea.

“Together with its research partners (University of Cape Town {UCT}, Nelson Mandela University {NMU}, Exeter University, Bristol University and Birdlife), SANCCOB contributes data on the movement and survival of African penguins in the wild, which informs fishing management decisions.” For instance, decision-making about the geographic locations where small pelagic fish may be caught.

Managing fish stocks is no easy task as it requires cooperation at all levels of government, local communities and across countries. Consumers also have a role to play.

What can you do to save the African penguin?

Dr Lauren Waller: “Be aware of the threats to seabirds and understand how your actions either exacerbate or reduce their impacts. Ask questions to those organisations involved in order to understand the issues and how you can further your support.”

Choose sustainable seafood options in the supermarkets and when you eat out. Check the WWF-SASSI colour-coded seafood guide. It tells you which seafood can be eaten (on the green list); which seafood you should think twice about (on the Orange list); and which seafood should be avoided altogether (on the Red list).

Photo credit: Shane van Schalkwyk