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.
Since 2013 Birdlife partners in Ecuador, Peru and Chile have been monitoring small-scale gillnet fleets for evidence of interactions (termed “bycatch”) with pink-footed shearwaters and other seabird species. In Peru there are tens of thousands of small-scale fishermen operating from over 10,000 vessels along the coast. The most common fishing gear they use is gillnets, often set drifting overnight at the ocean surface. The bycatch of any one vessel may be few and the work of monitoring can continue year upon year - observing, counting, and estimating the number of animals caught - to better understand the true impacts on these seabird populations.
The pink-footed shearwater is a vulnerable species that nests exclusively on a few small islands off the coast of Chile and migrates northward annually to foraging grounds off the north Pacific coasts of the United States and Canada. In the course of that migration these birds cross many fishing grounds that put them at risk of being caught and dying, including the massive gillnet fleet operating in Peru.
Below: A Pink-footed shearwater, one of four found entangled and drowned in gillnets off the coast of Peru
In June of 2014 one of our onboard observers accompanied a gillnet vessel out of the port of Chorillos, in the capital of Lima. Over the course of two fishing trips, each about 100 km offshore, four pink-footed shearwaters became entangled and drowned in the nets. These same trips also had bycatch including white-chinned petrels, sooty shearwaters, and a Markham’ s and ringed storm petrel. This was the first direct evidence of bycatch of pink-footed shearwaters by this study in Peru. We will continue our work monitoring this fishery, hoping no more birds get entangled or drown, but also looking for the long-term solutions for when they do.
Below: A map indicates the positions of observed net deployments and seabird bycatch
I recently conducted more on board demonstrations on how to use seabird bycatch mitigation measures in longline and trawl fisheries in Namibia. We are working in partnership with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and the fishing Industry to create awareness of the available solutions through training workshops, at sea demonstrations and fishery monitoring. By doing so, the introduction of conservation measures is a smoother process and more readily received by industry.
This time I presented to a total of thirty crew members from two vessels that belong to the Sea-work fishing company. The first part of the training was explaining that the Albatross Task Force is a marine conservation project, not a military squad as some of the crew members had understood from our name!
I then went on to explain the global issue of seabird mortality, indicating the grave situation in Namibia (our fisheries are amongst the world's most destructive to seabirds) and which species that we regularly see at sea are threatened with extinction. Giving a brief explanation of albatross life history traits, such as life expectancy, delayed sexual maturity, slow breeding and their life long choice of partners helps generate immediate interest with the crew.
My demonstration of bird scaring lines shows how they are flown during trawling and retrieved prior to hauling on trawl vessels. They simply provide a physical barrier that prevents seabirds from entering the danger zone behind the vessel where the trawl cables enter the water. Our work shows that deploying bird-scaring lines can practically eliminate seabird bycatch in Namibia.
Below: building bird scaring lines on deck for the demonstration
A long the coast of Chile there are often locally organised fairs intended to display the projects that are conducted in the region. These are popular with local university students and school children and represent a great opportunity to explain how the work of the Albatross Task Force is working with the fishing industry to prevent the incidental bycatch of threatened seabirds.
One of the main objectives of the Task Force is to develop local environmental education of the issue and generate awareness in the next generation of consumers, industry managers and seabird scientists!
In a recent event in Concon, a coastal town to the north of Valparaiso, I presented the work of the Task Force to local students and explained the interaction between seabirds and the diverse Chilean fisheries. It was a success, with over 300 people attending the stand and a lot of interest from past and present crew members of fishing vessels.
Below: Juan Carlos explains the work of the ATF to a local family
The commune of Concon is situated in an area with three fishing ports, where small scale fishing is an important feature of the economy and fisheries are ingrained in the social structure of the community. There are also several important wetland habitats for shore birds, forming a stop-over for migrating Franklin gulls Leucophaeus pipixcan and habitat for the Inca tern Larosterna inca amongst others. There is also a small breeding colony of Humboldt penguins Spheniscus humboldti on an island just off the coast.
One of the outcomes of this visit was generating contacts for future at sea observation in the fisheries that use gillnets in this area. It has been a valuable activity and is all part of planning future work in these fisheries.
Below: A classic Juan Carlos 'selfie' while at sea in a gillnet fishing vessel