We set sail from the pier at Torquato Pontes Pescados in Rio Grande, southern Brazil, at 1:30 AM. In a precise manoeuvre the captain steered the boat safely out of port, despite the 25 knot winds making her roll back and forth.
The strong winds did not settle down and the crew had to start hauling the first longline set at 6:30 AM, with the waves loudly crashing onto the deck around them. The lines, hauled in one by one, brought with them over a dozen whitefish, a 3 metre long swordfish and a yellowfin tuna weighing over 100 kilos! But most importantly of all for us, the use of mitigation measures ensured that no birds were caught on any of the hooks!
The high-value fish caught by vessels like this one makes pelagic longlining one of the most profitable fisheries in the world, with a single yellowfin tuna fetching up to 10,000 reais (£1700) on the Brazilian market.
At 7:30 AM on the third day the first giants appeared: three wandering albatrosses graced the crew with their presence and decided to stick around for the whole day.
As those of you follow #AlbatrossStories will know, these incredible birds nest in sub-Antarctic and travel thousands of kilometres to the South American coast in search for food.
Their 3 meters wingspans and the winds of the Southern Ocean help them do so in a seemingly effortless manner.
Whilst the crew hauled the longlines in, the trio gracefully soaring above was joined by several black-browed albatrosses, white-chinned petrels and giant petrels. Eventually, the group of hungry birds settled on the water to feed on the offal being discarded by the crew as they processed the day’s catch.
The next day the first Atlantic petrel of the season appeared –yet another endangered species which breeds on UK Overseas territories in the Atlantic but pays visits to our Albatross Task Force teams in Brazil and Namibia from time to time.
Occasionally on trips like this, the main fishing line breaks due to the wear and tear of ocean tides. When this happens, it is important that the crew keeps an eye on the drifting fishing gear so that they can prevent it from getting lost. But it is also a good opportunity for people onboard to have some downtime, share a cup of coffee and some good stories with each other.
On one day, the main fishing line broke three times and it took several hours for the crew to relocate it! Luckily, it was found just before sun set and the crew was able to retrieve it under a beautiful pinkish-purple sky!
The captain then decided to move to a different fishing area and by dawn the crew was setting the lines in deeper waters, in search of large groups of tuna. The particular area we were in is very nutrient-rich and, as the whalers knew back in the day, home to lots of cetaceans! Whilst fishing in the area we were lucky enough to see a display of dolphins, jumping and surfing in the waves at the bow of the boat, a group of 40 pilot whales and even some curious orcas who came to play with the fishing buoys.
However, due to the lack of fishing success, the captain decided to head even further out to sea, towards the border with Uruguay and we ended up some 300 km away from the coast. This proved to be a very wise choice, and on the tenth day out at sea we caught the most fish!
After sixteen days of fishing it was time to head home, knowing that zero albatrosses were killed on this trip! This is remarkable result, shows the effectiveness of bycatch mitigation measures and the partnership between the Albatross Task Force and the fishing crews we work with.
I returned to land feeling inspired, knowing that the fishery is moving towards a healthier relationship with seabirds.
It is an honour to be part of the Albatross Task Force team, at the forefront of conservation and at end of the line – literally! It is also a pleasure to be part of the crew onboard, learning from those who spend their lives at the sea and raising awareness of the impacts our activities have on albatross populations worldwide.
With thanks to our Brazilian partner Projeto Albatroz for providing all the content used in this blog.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654