Last week I returned from my trip on Abate Molina – a scientific research vessel owned by the Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) in Chile. Although I have been working with the Albatross Task Force for over ten years, this was the first time I was on such a boat. In fact, being Argentinian, it was the first time I sailed through the waters of the South Pacific Ocean!

I spent 20 days testing bird scaring lines (BSLs) on board this vessel, during fishing operations targeting common hake (Merluccius gayi gayi). In Argentina, I work on board commercial fishing vessels to help reduce seabird bycatch by deploying bird scaring lines and raising awareness of seabird conservation issues among crew members, so this is something I am used to doing. However, I must admit my expectations were very high for this trip in Chile, as it was the first time I would be working on the same boast as a scientific team of oceanographers and hydroacoustic experts and other researchers.

ATF instructor Nahuel Chavez from Argentina has been working with the Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) in Chile to demonstrate the effectiveness of bird scaring lines (BSLs). This mitigation measure can help save thousands of seabirds, by keeping them a safe distance away from trawl cables (as seen in picture). The use of BSLs became compulsory on industrial trawlers in Argentina in May 2018.      

Since I am used to being on large industrial trawlers in Argentina, Abate Molina seemed a bit small at first with its mere 43 meters. Being smaller, this boat also moved around a lot more than what I was used to, and for the first two days I was too dizzy and seasick to work! Once I got my sea-legs back however, I was able to start observing the seabirds that were assembling around the vessel. I managed to see some species I had never encountered before, including Salvin's albatross (Thalassarche salvini), the Antipodean albatross (Diomedea antipodensis) and the famous pink-footed shearwater (Ardenna creatopus), all of which are globally threatened species.

As soon as I started to deploy the bird scaring lines, the researchers, scientific observers and crew members onboard Abate Molina came to see what I was doing. They wanted to learn about the famous mitigation measure that could save thousands of seabirds. Even though I knew what I was doing, it was a bit daunting having ten people expectantly observe you. However, I soon became more relaxed as things went according to plan and the others started giving me positive feedback after witnessing the effect of the bird scaring lines first hand – seabirds feeding on discards (fish and intestines thrown overboard) farther away from the "danger zone"  where the trawl cables enter the water behind the vessel.

Nahuel Chavez on-board Abate Molina with some of the crew and scientific team from the Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) in Chile. 

To be honest the best thing about the trip, in addition to successfully demonstrating the effectiveness of bird scaring lines, was the great people I met along the way. The  crew on the boat was extremely accommodating and helpful throughout the trip. They have a set of speakers on deck and are always listening to great tunes while they are working (like the Rolling stones and Pear Jam). This is not something I had experienced on any boats in Argentina and I had a great time listening to the songs I like while deploying the bird scaring lines!

We also had a good time playing card games and watching movies together in the evenings. At the end of the trip the crew and research team gave me a bunch of t-shirts and caps to thank me for the work I had done on-board the vessel. I too felt very grateful for having been part of this great experience – made possible by the ATF and the Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) in Chile. The trip exceeded my expectations by far! I have made new friends and together we were able to demonstrate that it is possible to save the seabirds! You can read more about this transnational collaboration here.                                                                       

/Nahuel Chavez (ATF Instructor - Argentina)