The definition of small-scale (sometimes referred to as artisanal) fisheries is not particularly clear and it differs from country to country. However, most fleets that are described as small-scale share some common characteristics:
Small-scale certainly doesn’t do justice to the size of the fleets involved. On the Pacific coast of South America these fleets are particularly large. In Ecuador there are estimated to be over 15,000 small-scale vessels operating a variety of fishing gears. In Peru the number is closer to 10,000 whilst further south in Chile another 15,000 are estimated.
The term does describe the economical basis of the fisheries though, with most small-scale fish catch destined for human consumption in the local vicinity, whilst industrial fisheries dominate the exportation of frozen produce, fish meal and processed and packaged goods.
The impact these fisheries have on seabirds and other marine fauna is not well documented, although some studies have shown that bycatch does occur. Calculating the importance of the potential impact of these fisheries across such large and diverse fleets is particularly challenging. Even a very low level of bycatch on a particular vessel, could signify dramatic annual bycatch across such large fleets. The first step is undoubtedly to identify how, where and when birds are being are caught.
The Albatross Task Force has been working with small-scale fisheries in Ecuador since 2008, to identify fleets that interact with the Critically Endangered waved albatross. We made our first trips on small-scale vessels in Chile during 2011, and at the start of 2012 we began working with fleets in the north of Peru.
While no best practice mitigation measures have been defined for these fisheries, the basis of studying the problem (identifying the technical and operational causes of mortality before designing, testing and implementing mitigation) is similar to that in industrial fisheries. Due to the small size and available storage space of the vessels in these fleets, there are restrictions on the kind of measures that can be adopted. An innovative approach is definitely needed to make a difference in these fleets.
The Albatross Task Force is the world’s first international team of mitigation instructors. If a solution can be developed to mitigate seabird bycatch in small-scale fisheries, we will find it!