Hi everybody! I’m writing to share some news from my last trip in
southern Brazil. I left port Rio Grande on board the FV Maria, a wooden longline vessel under the command of captain Beto,
a new collaborator with Projeto Albatroz and the ATF in Brazil.
Beto guided us out toward deeper waters off the southernmost port in Brazil,
immediately adjacent to the Uruguayan border, and we started fishing in waters around
2,000 m deep, looking for sword fish and other large fish.
My main objectives on board was to continue evaluating the performance
of the Brazilian tori line, and compare the catch rate of target species when
using two configurations of line weighting. The new regulations require weights
placed within 2 m of the hooks, which increases the sink rate of baited hooks
and therefore decreases the time hooks are within reach of the seabirds. The
configuration typically used by the Brazilian fishing industry sets the weights
at around 6 m from the hooks.
Besides this important research on existing mitigation measures, I also collected
data on the seabird aggregations associated with the vessel, trained the
fishermen in the correct use of the tori line and discussed best practice measures
for longline fisheries.
We spent 17 days at sea and carried out a total of ten longline sets.
All the sets started at night or in the late evening so as to minimise the light available for seabirds to attach baited hooks. Seven of the ten sets were conducted
with a tori line deployed.
Not a single seabird was captured while the tori line was used but a White-chinned
petrel was caught when the gear was set without a tori line even though the
captain was setting the hooks at night.
Despite the misfortune of having caught a bird, this event served to demonstrate
to some fishermen that the tori line really is necessary at night, not just
during the day. This serves as a good example of why we need a combination of
mitigation measures to effectively reduce seabird bycatch, specifically night
setting, a tori line, and adequate line weighting.
During this trip there was an amazing amount of Wandering, Southern
Royal and Northern Royal albatrosses attending the vessel, and I took note of a
large number of Wandering albatrosses with seabird identity rings.
I also observed what appeared to be a Tristan albatrosses, but differentiating
this species from the Wandering albatross at sea is impossible. I also observed
a Shy-type albatross for the first time, which was the first record of an
adult in Brazilian waters. I am always fascinated to see such wonderful
creatures so close, although it is a worry to see a large number of these globally
threatened species in an area with such a huge concentration of longline
For many of us the recurring theme of the enormous accumulation of waste
caused by human activities is a great concern. Through the ebb and flow of our daily lives, we discard large volumes of both solid and liquid waste products. Indeed,
the current rate of consumption
of biosphere resources means we need about one and a half additional planets just to satisfy our disproportionate demands.
One of the most prominent waste materials is plastic. In fact, today we are facing a global plastic pollution crisis (see here for more information). The most common plastic waste products include plastic food containers and shopping bags, which have a high discard rate and
therefore accumulate rapidly. Many of these items end up in the sea,
which has all too often been regarded as a global junk yard.
Marine animals, particularly vertebrates can be strangled by plastic strapping or old nets and suffer from ingesting small plastic items that they mistake for food. Bags, bottle tops, cigarette lighters and even small toys have been found in the stomachs of seabirds and
turtles, obstructing the digestive tract. It is widely recognized that in addition to waste from the mainland, one of the biggest causes is related to the discard of plastics and other items from boats at sea.
While an international protocol exists to manage vessel waste (MARPOL), compliance with these rules depends on individuals.
ATF instructors have the chance to champion this cause while at sea. Therefore I paid
attention to waste management practices
aboard during my last trip. I found an interesting attitude to waste issues.
One crew member, Luis Montecino explained how
plastic and other items are separated into different containers on Chilean trawl vessels. Luis went on to describe "... this is about being aware of the damage people can
do to the environment, and how it is a cultural problem."
Clearly, on this vessel at least, the crew take the issue seriously. This is reflected in simple but significant details such as the presence of a container intended solely for the recycling of used batteries on the bridge. Hopefully, these small gestures will find a place beyond a fleet level, and on to a national and why not, international scale. The promotion of responsible
practices by determined individuals can be passed on through our behaviour. These actions can in turn be integrated into the promotion of best practice in other components of vessel operations, such as the correct handling and
release of birds caught in fishing gear.
This kind of positive attitude can be extended to include seabird conservation measures. The good thing is that in Chile, the crew are already aware of environmental issues and we can build on
this existing awareness to generate the kind of understanding that leads to a very positive change for seabirds.