For sure, when you see this post I will be at sea, as I am setting off in an hour's time (18th June). I’m going to sea for the first of several fishing trips that have been arranged to evaluate the performance of the Hook Pod in the Brazilian pelagic longline fishery.
The Hook Pod is an innovative mitigation measure that encapsulates the barb of the fishing hooks until they sink beyond the reach of vulnerable albatrosses. This Hook Pod is the Mark VI, which has benefitted from some recent design improvements thanks to continued collaboration between the Global Seabird Programme and Fishtek Ltd.
The Mark VI has been strengthened, has a new release mechanism and a LED light - a development that is designed to replace the use of disposable plastic light sticks, which will reduce plastic pollution in the oceans.
My team mate, Fabiano Peppes is in Rio Grande helping to prepare the fishing gear and will continue with the second sea-trip on my return. The trials in Brazil are a crucial part in the development of the Hook Pod, potentially a single mitigation measure for pelagic longline fisheries.
Below: Hook Pods hanging in the setting box, ready for fishing!
Below: Dimas on board with the crew, preparing fishing gear
Chile has great potential to be recognized as a "hotspot" for marine biodiversity, including seabirds that can be found in its waters. Thanks to a long and complex geography, Chile has water bodies in the Humboldt Current, ocean environments of Polynesia, as well as the far southern fjords and channels in sub-Antarctic waters.
In this way, an essentially maritime country has never been far from the interaction between humans and seabirds. This relationship is ancestral, starting with examples from the indigenous canoeist peoples who once sailed the southern channels as hunter-gatherers.
Currently, the Chilean coast has a significant fishery presence, both artisanal and industrial. As with any activity of this nature, it also presents some interactions with seabirds at-sea (1) and in breeding colonies.
Below: Seabirds associated with artisanal purse-seine fishery in the Humboldt Current (© Luis A. Cabezas)
Chilean researchers (2) have reflected on the role of researchers in Latin America, driving more active participation in the generation of knowledge about biodiversity and conservation, instead of being interested bystanders.
In this light, and considering seabirds in the international arena, Chile has gone from a virtually unknown country position during the 1970s (3), to a country with clear examples of conservation in reducing seabird bycatch. Examples of local adaptations to fishing gear (4) in sub-Antarctic waters and tests of experimental mitigation measures in previously unknown trawl fisheries (5) in the Humboldt Current.
Chile is a country where contemporary discoveries have occurred for population estimates (6) of emblematic species such as the Black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophrys. However, many challenges still remain to confront the interactions between human activities and associated seabirds.
This story is still in development, as there are many species and fisheries that have yet to be dealt with. One of these new challenges corresponds to the occurrence of dead seabirds washed up on Chilean beaches along the Humboldt Current, which has been blamed on gillnet and purse-seine fisheries. These events which are recurring along the Chilean coast have attracted local and international media attention.
Currently, different hypotheses have been mentioned about how these events happen, such as the entanglement of birds in nets, illnesses and even the use of explosives. However, with so many possibilities, we should seek more significant evidence on the causes of these events.
To this end, national researchers and foreign collaborators have suggested combining various methodologies. Some of these have considered the use of necropsies (7) to assign seabird mortality through the signs of drowning in nets such as Magellan penguins Spheniscus magellanicus. This same type of method can be used to evaluate the existence of dynamite fishing and the damage that this would represent in bodily structures.
Chilean researchers (8) have established that the mortality of penguins principally have been linked to entanglement in fishing nets and indicate a chronic level of bycatch. There is a marked seasonality of this during the winter migration of birds toward lower latitudes. Currently, the integration of historical and recent accounts of these type of interactions is in preparation for a publication.
At the same time, to systematically monitor events from shore has generated open access platforms such as the seabird strandings network. This network will compile information pertinent to seabird bycatch, contamination, disease and other aspects throughout Chile.
These initiatives are already underway, beginning with the joint work of researchers and authorities that has manifested the need to renew the National Plan of Action – Seabirds beyond seabird bycatch in longline fisheries.
Thus, the road toward generating the knowledge of how to reduce and eliminate these events is a mission for Chile. Even so, the next steps must be taken toward obtaining solutions with the general community and active participation with the fisheries industry. This way, we will confront and develop local solutions for what is also a global issue.
(1) Suazo, C.G., R.P. Schlatter, A.M. Arriagada, L.A. Cabezas & J. Ojeda (2013) Fishermen's perceptions of interactions between seabirds and artisanal fisheries in the Chonos archipelago, Chilean Patagonia. Oryx, 42: 184-189.
(2) Rau, J.R. (2010) En el 2010, año internacional de la diversidad biológica: un ruego para que los científicos latinoamericanos pasemos de ser espectadores a ser actores. Boletín de Biodiversidad de Chile, 2: 1-2.
(3) Tickell, W.L.N. (1976) The distribution of Black-browed and Grey-headed albatrosses. Emu, 76: 64-68.
(4) Moreno, C.A., R. Castro, L.J. Mújica & P. Reyes (2008) Significant conservation benefits obtained from the use of a new fishing gear in the Chilean Industrial Patagonian Toothfish Fishery. CCAMLR Science, 15: 79-91.
(5) ATF-Chile (2013) Demersal Trawl Report (2011-2012). Albatross Task Force-Chile, BirdLife International, Chile.
(6) Moreno, C.A. & G. Robertson (2008) ¿Cuántos Albatross de Ceja Negra, Thalassarche melanophrys (Temminck, 1828) anidan en Chile? Anales Instituto Patagonia (Chile), 36: 89-91.
(7) Schlatter, R.P., E. Paredes, J. Ulloa, J. Harris, A. Romero, J. Vásquez, A. Lizama, C. Hernández & A. Simeone (2009) Mortandad de pingüino de Magallanes (Spheniscus magellanicus) en Queule, región de la Araucanía, Chile. Boletín Chileno de Ornitología, 15: 78-86.
(8) Simeone, A. (2010) Patrones espaciales y temporales de mortalidad de pingüinos Spheniscus en redes de pesca a lo largo de la costa chilena (Resúmenes X Congreso Chileno de Ornitología). Boletín Chileno de Ornitología, 17: 53.
Our fishing season normally starts in February of each year and runs through to December, spanning almost 10 months. For seabirds the highest priority months are from May through to September, when seabirds are more abundant in our waters.
We have two major fisheries that contribute significantly to our national GDP and they are hake trawl and tuna longline fisheries. The Albatross Task Force team has observed and identified causes of high rates of seabird mortalities within these fisheries.
This year many fishing boats have been on the slip (dry dock) longer than they expected to, compared to previous years. A lot of work is done on these boats to prepare them for annual Maritime safety surveys which are normally conducted prior to the commencement of the new fishing season.
Earlier in the year we therefore work with fishermen onshore by way of conducting harbour visits. We use these visits to speak to different fishermen and skippers about seabird conservation and any recent fishing activities. We also use these times to ask them about the effectiveness of our mitigation measures that are already in place such as ‘tori lines’ and we make note of any suggestions and feedback they have.
We use these visits to renew working relationships with fishermen as we consider them to be pivotal to our work. For some of these fishermen that are still new to the industry we acquaint them with information about seabird bycatch and the global problem of seabird population declines.
It is quite heart-warming to see how well our information is being received. We therefore take full cognizance of their suggestions regarding improvement to tori lines and so on. We will continue to conduct onshore interactive talks with fishermen and advise them on how they can help reduce chances of seabirds being caught and killed in their fisheries.
Below: ATF instructor Tshikana working in the port with various crew from the local fishing fleet.
This blog entry was written by: Andrew Johnson
When the alarm goes off at 3am, you generally know that you are about to have a “different” sort of day. It was a quick cold shower and then out into the (very) early morning heat to take a motor-trike down to Mancora Port in Northern Peru where I met local longline fishermen.
I was there as a volunteer as part of the ATF in Peru which is ran by ProDelphinus, a not-for-profit organization committed to the conservation of threatened and endangered marine fauna. My mission was to spend a few days fishing with these artisanal fishers to see if their activities have detrimental effects to marine megafauna, in particular the Waved albatrosss (Phoebastria irrorata).
So it was a wobbly and dark start, stepping onto the Puerto Deseado, 10 metre inboard diesel powered lancha (boat). Soon after, the silence was broken by the deep gurgling of the engine and we were heading out to the fishing ground, about 3 miles offshore, where the coastal shelf drops off steeply to 180 metres.
During the trip out, the two-man crew was busy baiting the 2,000 hooks with fresh fish, ready to set the line over several kilometers along the edge of the drop off. As for me, I was readily bruising my chest leaning over the side of the boat staring at the incredible display the microscopic plankton (dinoflagellates) were putting on. Lighting up as the water was disturbed by the bow and the propeller. Looking out over the stern of the boat all I could see was a phosphorescent trail of blue-green water and the distant lights of Mancora fishing port. Well worth the early start.
Once at the drop off we spent a speedy 40 minutes motoring along the contour, guided by a hand held GPS. The crew set hooks flying over the side of the boat into the water and before I knew it we were done. Then it was just a waiting game.
Although longline fishing does not cause the same problem as trawl fisheries – severe sea bed disturbance – it has its own associated problems. It is still not a completely selective mode of fishing (i.e. it can catch things that the fishers don’t mean or want to catch). After all, a hook with bait on it can attract more than one sort of fish. This is not too much of a problem if the specimens caught are marketable fish but there is also a darker side to the catch.
As the baited hooks are cast or retrieved with fish hanging on them, they offer an attractive and easy meal for passing birds which commonly follow fishing vessels. A bird hooked as the line comes out of the water is not too much of a problem. It may injure the bird, but it can often be released alive. If, however, a bird is caught as the hooks enter the water, they are dragged down to the depths, only to be seen again hours later when the line is recovered, hanging dead on the line.
Once we arrived back at the first buoy / the start of the longline, the sun had risen and I was getting excited about what was going to appear on the line. Within minutes, buckets were full of large hake, pink doncella and the fliers (gurnards) with their huge pectoral fins. I was surprised at the number of fish caught considering the hooks had only been in the water for about 1.5 hrs.
Below: Fish catch in the longline fishery off Mancora, Peru. Image by Andrew Johnson
Although, it was mesmerizing watching these fish rise to the surface, hook after hook, it was also upsetting how many of them were thrown over the side. Smaller than your forearm, they can’t be sold – incredible considering the quality of the catch I was seeing. Although caught on small hooks, these fish die as the journey from 180 m to the surface often leaves them bloated and with internal damage: a really difficult thing to watch ... perfectly good fish being left to waste over the side of the boat.
Although not great in terms of the fish that I saw wasted, over the two weeks I spent in Mancora, I saw no avian bycatch and only one lonely waved albatross, which was not even remotely interested in the baited hooks, fish caught on the hooks or even those discarded from our boat. It sat, staring at us from a distance of about 50 metres wondering what we were doing, and then slowly paddled its way off into the blue.
Below: Waved albatross in Peru. Image by Andrew Johnson
On the other hand, one bird species that did pay a lot of attention to our activities was the frigate (Fregata magnificens) These birds (in groups of over 20) followed us closely throughout every fishing trip but I still saw no real interaction with the fishing undertaken.
My experience is only a small part of a much larger story. What about the longliners that fish further out to sea with more hooks? This again is not the end of the story. Longline fishing is one of many things that potentially threaten seabirds and sea turtles as well as other marine megafauna. Agencies, charities and associations like ProDelphinus are indispensable. They provide a voice for the fauna that would otherwise be fighting a losing battle against the world’s most efficient predator – us.
I urge you all to get involved in any way you can, read about the work of Albatross Task Force teams like ProDelphinus and similar projects, enroll for beach cleans, ask where your fish comes from, and always have at the forefront of your mind what effect your actions have on the planet. Whether it be buying fish, using a plastic bag or cycling to work.
Below: Frigate bird taking a fish from the sea surface. Image by Andrew Johnson
This blog was written by Elizabeth Campbell, of ProDelphinus, Peru.
We were approached early one morning by a fisherman in Mancora. He was just back from a fishing trip targeting yellow fin tuna and hammerhead sharks. We started chatting about our work and he mentioned how he had seen albatrosses at sea while he was fishing with nets off the port of Mancora in northern Peru.
After a couple hours chatting the fisherman was comfortable enough to share with us that he had once had a waved albatross entangled in his gillnet. He and his crew were able to release the bird from the net and then noticed the metal and plastic identification rings it had on its legs. Unfortunately, besides writing down the 4 digit ID codes from each band they also removed them from the bird. As the bird appeared uninjured they released it and it flew off.
We immediately submitted this information to colleagues at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands and Colorado State University - we were eager to find out more about this lucky albatross. We were excited to see our email inbox the very next day. Our colleagues had the details of this bird’s journeys.
This waved albatross was tagged as an adult, and was possibly male. It was first captured and banded on Española Island in the Galapagos. It was subsequently recaptured in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The good news is that even though its identification bands were removed, this individual also carried another tag so its identification by biologists in the Galapagos is still possible.
Fishermen sometimes see seabirds with ID bands but few know their function or importance. We hope that our efforts when talking to fishermen about these bands helps increase their appreciation for these fascinating animals, and that slowly fishermen in Peru will better understand the value of releasing animals alive … and with their bands still intact!
Below: Albatross bands recovered in Peru