Thousands of albatrosses die needlessly every year as the victims of longling fishing. They are attracted to the baited hooks, get caught and are dragged under the water and drown.
Fishermen are often unaware of the simple, cost effective techniques that when used rapidly reduce albatross deaths.
In 2005, along with a number of our BirdLife International partners, the Albatross Task Force was formed. These men and women are the world's first international team of skilled, at-sea instructors.
Since their formation, there have been a dramatic reduction in the numbers of albatross and other seabirds killed. This is a sure sign that Albatross Task Force members really are getting something practical done to help save albatrosses from extinction.
This blog follows the trials and tribulations of the Albatross Task Force as they work onshore and at sea, spreading the message about these life-saving techniques.
When we were defining our annual work programme in Chile we were keen to maintain a link with the community, beyond that of the fishing industry. In fact, we have always strived to extend the information about seabird bycatch and albatross conservation to the public in general.
As such we decided to end the year, having completed the last at-sea trips of 2011, by sharing our experiences with two important components of society. The first of these two activities was with students from the Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción (in the city of Concepción), with an emphasis on the future marine biologists (see image below).
The second activity involved the social groups that are linked to environmental protection in Talcahuano. This was special in many ways as we gave the talks in an encampment at Caleta el Morro, a site that was created by the people who lost their homes to the great earthquake and tsunami that hit Chile on the 27th February 2010.
Despite the terrible experience that this community lived through, we found an audience that was extremely interested in the topics we presented and who actively shared opinions on the concepts of bycatch (see image below). The community enjoyed hearing about our work to reduce the effects of fisheries on albatross and petrels and they clearly consider albatrosses and petrels to be part of Chilean natural heritage.
Meanwhile, Luis Cabezas the ATF project leader in Chile was interviewed by local newspapers to explain further the work of the ATF along the Chilean coast. This represents an important platform to reach the homes of the community in the regions where we are active.
The interest in the novelty of our work with mitigation measures has been such that the local newspaper ‘El diario de Concepción’ published a caricature in the humour section of the paper inspired by the work the ATF is conducting at sea in Chile (bird-scaring line in Spanish directly translates as ‘scarecrow’ - see image below).
Curiously, this caricature was well received by the community and apart from being a humorous component of the paper, also reinforced the work of the ATF in a friendly manner helping spread awareness in the community. In fact, personally I found that people really understood and engaged with the ATF project which makes me feel really happy and gives me the sensation that we are doing a good job.
This has definitely been a great year; we started our work in the central-southern zone of Chile and found strong alliances and friends, especially Patricio Ortiz from CODEFF (BirdLife Partner in Chile) and his family as well as the entire community, including all the people who live in close contact with the ocean, the universities and passionate social groups.
ATF Chile is proud to have conducted these activities with the communities that have been hit so strongly by the forces of nature, but who are showing great fortitude to move onwards and rebuild their lives. We dedicate all our achievements to them, especially as they showed such interest and emotion to help protect what is to them and us an irreplaceable natural heritage – the seabirds.
I recently returned from a routine Albatross Task Force at-sea trip onboard a conventional wet fish trawl vessel in Argentina (fish are stored on ice, but not frozen like on the larger freezer vessels). The trip lasted a total of 16 days and fishing was concentrated around 300 km east of the Valdéz Peninsula, where I carried out various different initiatives in relation to seabird conservation and fisheries.
Specifically, I was studying the impacts between seabirds and trawl warp cables, counting the number of times seabirds collide with or are struck by the cables that tow the fishing nets during the trawl. I was also monitoring the birds that become entangled with the fishing nets when they are brought to the surface, or when the gear is deployed again for the next haul.
This fleet sets and hauls the nets over the starboard side of the vessel, quite different from other fleets which haul via an aft ramp. The side hauling operation makes this fishery similar to purse-seine fisheries in some respect as the net remains floating at the surface of the water while the catch is unloaded from the cod end (see image below).
The most vulnerable birds in this operation are the diving petrels and shearwaters, the White-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis), Great shearwater (Puffinus gravis) and Sooty shearwater (Puffinus griseus) all become entangled in the mesh of the trawl nets.
During this trip only a single White-chinned petrel was caught, but the crew told of multiple entanglements during certain times of the year. The presence of the ATF in this fleet will be fundamental to help understand and mitigate this interaction.
During all operations we conduct seabird counts to determine the abundance and diversity of seabirds that accompany the vessels in each fleet. What caught my attention this trip was the relatively low abundance of seabirds – typically we see over 2,000 birds per operation but this trip I only counted an average of 500 birds. This is due to the time of year and the characteristics of the fleet. However there were large numbers of marine mammals in the area including Peales’ dolphin (Lagenorhynchus australis), Dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) and the enormous Southern Right whale (Eubalaena australis).
Skuas and Jaegers (Catharacta antárctica, Stercorarius pomarinus and S. longicaudus) were also present but the most important sighting was that of several Shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta) which are tricky to separate at-sea from White-capped albatross (Thalassarche steadi) - can you tell which of the two species is in the photo below?.
Many of these species are on the Red List of endangered species (IUCN 2011) and so their presence around, and interaction with fishing vessels is of great importance. It was the first time that the ATF in Argentina had recorded these species foraging within the ‘danger zone’ (the area directly between the trawl warp cables) and this time I am pleased to say there was no impact between the birds and the fishing gear.