I spent time at sea for my first trip as an instructor onboard a 35 m longline vessel. The trip was short, lasting just eight days, so we only managed to set three lines before returning to port.
During my time onboard, I discussed the need to reduce the access of the seabirds to the baited hooks while they are setting the line.
Together with the captain and various members of the crew, we incorporated some Time Depth Recorders (TDRs) onto the main line. These are small devices that, when deployed record the time and depth as the line sinks, ultimately giving a sink rate for the line. This gives us a better idea of how the line, and therefore hooks are behaving in the water during the set.
While I was at sea, five seabirds were captured, three of which were black-browed albatrosses, one was a spectacled petrel and one was a yellow-nosed albatross. Fortunately, the last two were entangled on the gear and we were able to release them alive with no visible signs of damage.
Having been selected as one of the first two Albatross Task Force (ATF) instructors in Uruguay, I arranged my first trip to sea.
The Uruguayan longline fleet had been less active recently due to relatively low catches, but seeing that the vessels were starting to head out again, I secured a position aboard the 'Puyuguapi', a 30 m longline vessel targeting swordfish. Luckily the weather was good for the trip, which lasted only seven days as the vessel suffered some damage.
Despite this, two lines were set and although the target catch was poor, we were lucky as there was also no seabird catch. I was able to take positive aspects from the short trip such as learning more about the behaviour of the seabirds around the vessel, develop a working relationship with the crew onboard and help explain our work and the need for seabird conservation.
This last point is of great importance as we need their collaboration in the project if we can be successful. Most of the crew live in Paloma, which is my home town and I know many of them since childhood.
We discussed the imminent construction of a bird-scaring line that we will help them build, together with the crew. I presented them with some educational materials from Uruguay's 'Proyeto Albatros y Petreles', including the seabird bulletin 'Atlantico Sur'. The fisherman liked that a lot as it demonstrates the positive results from work that they have been collaborating with such as returning identification rings from dead birds, the use of dyed bait and releasing live birds.
The year started with a big decrease in the numbers of longline fishing vessels active in the swordfish fishery in Chile. Currently there are now five vessels at-sea and two industrial freezer ships waiting to leave port. That gives us a total of just seven vessels.
As each vessel prepared to leave port, I spent time with the captains to discuss the information in the last workshops and to present them with some extra educational materials plus the new Chilean Albatross Task Force (ATF) T-shirt!
As the first five boats out started to return one by one, I visited each of them to see how the fishing had been during the first trip of the year. Catches have been decent, considering it was the first trip of the year and none of them reported much non-target catch such as tuna, shark or other frequently-caught species in this fishery.
The fishing zones were mainly between 27° S and 35° S and along the longitude of 080° W and 083° W. All commented that there were very few seabirds around at this time of the year and joked that 'there weren't many fish, let alone birds!'
The smaller vessels started to head out for their second trip and I asked that if they don't carry an observer could they bring back any details of seabird bycatch and any samples so that we can identify them correctly.
Also, with the recent enforcement of mandatory streamer lines on all vessels, captains and officers were keen to discuss the correct design and construction with me. I demonstrated where to attach the bird scaring lines on each vessel and took them through the steps of building them so that they don't interfere with the fishing operations.
I am hoping that this year we will see a dramatic decline in seabird bycatch thanks to the use of bird scaring lines. The main issue is convincing them to use them all the time and use them correctly.
I will keep working closely with the captains and crew, who certainly have the will and interest to cooperate with the Albatross Task Force.
I have started to work as an Albatross Task Force Instructor in Argentina. This is a project co-ordinated by the Seabird Programme of Aves Argentinas and local researchers.
The aim is to educate crew who work on the bottom trawler vessels. The warp cables on these boats drag the whole catch up through the water and hold a huge weight; therefore, the cable movement through the water is an extremely powerful force.
When fish are discarded, the albatrosses get washed into the cables as they forage. Their wings get trapped on the cables and the pressure drags them under and they drown. This has been shown to have a huge impact on seabirds in other fisheries and needs investigating in Argentina. It is so sad to see albatrosses end up as in the photo I have taken.
This bottom trawl net is used in every corner of the Argentine Sea by more than 500 vessels, so you can see how problems in these waters could be critical for albatross conservation. Usually, the longline has been identified as a threat for albatrosses and petrels, but only two vessels use this method regularly in Argentina. Therefore, in Argentina we will be focusing on preventing catastrophe for albatrosses from the bottom trawler vessels.
Two types of trawl fishery exist in Argentina:
In most cases, the species affected is the black-browed albatross, although it is possible that other species of albatross are also affected.
The Albatross Task Force in Argentina are lucky to have Fabian Rabuffetti, the co-ordinator of Aves Argentinas' Seabird Programme taking charge of the team. He has been involved in with seabird conservation in Argentina for many years and will be a great asset. Leandro Tamini is the instructor who will be working in the team.
Firstly I would like to say that I am very pleased to be part of such important team as the Albatross Task Force and very proud to be chosen among so many candidates. I felt very happy and enthusiastic to start my task in Itajaí port!
I had the opportunity to go on the Brazilian Research Vessel Soloncy Moura to improve my skills in a practical way and concluded this phase of my training.
We left Itajaí harbor on January 18, 6.30 pm and we started the voyage on a very calm ocean with a south-east breeze which indicated that it would probably rain during the night and the sea conditions would change. We travelled in a southerly direction towards the Santa Marta Cape. According to the experienced skipper Dalmo, former skipper of the FV João Paulo III longline fishery vessel, the distance between Itajaí and the fishing ground was about 186 nautical miles.
The main objective of the research cruise was to test J and circle hooks, provided by the Sea Turtle Project in Brazil (Projeto Tamar).
The next morning, the sea was showing signs that the conditions had changed - it wasn't as calm as the previous night. During our journey to the fishing ground, although we had a pair of tori lines (bird scaring lines) that had already been tested, we decided to try a new model. This model had a main line consisting of 2 millimetre nylon cable which was lighter and easier to handle when compared with the other cables used by the other tori line on board.
We also tested the length of the tori line main cable to verify its effectiveness in reducing seabird bycatch. The crew of the vessel helped us to build the tori line and it was very nice to talk to them about seabird conservation.
However, generally at this time of the year there is a low occurrence of seabirds crossing the fishing ground off the Brazilian south coast. This is because this period is the reproduction and nesting season of several seabird species all over the Southern Hemisphere. Even so, I saw an abundance of spectacled petrels, always accompanying the vessel during the cruise, and occasionally some yellow-nosed albatrosses (juveniles and adults) and several other petrels and shearwater species (great shearwater, Cory's shearwater, Cape Verde shearwater, white-chinned petrel, etc).
We carried out five fishing sets with weather forecast not so good, but not so bad either. The fishing ground consisted of the southern portion of the Santa Marta Cape out to the edge of the slope and the area close to Itajaí. Sharks were the most frequently captured fish, of which the main species was the blue shark, including many females in various stages of reproduction. There were two sets using the tori line, in spite of the low seabird incidence in the fishing area.
Thankfully we had no seabirds or sea turtle bycatch; however, the fishing wasn't very productive because at this time of year the commercial longline fleet prefers to operate in the Trindade Island region (Espirito Santo coast) or near the 200 MN EEZ, off the Rio Grande Elevation.
My return to Itajaí was on 25 January at 3 am. Certainly, this voyage was very useful because I now have the training that will help me for trips with the commercial longline fleet planned later in the year. I really can't wait to start to work at sea again to admire such incredible seabirds!