Mummified remains in the Atacama Desert suggest the first Andean tribes ventured closer to the coast some 7,000 BC, attracted by the plentiful and accessible marine resources. Today, the most northerly city in Chile is still an important fishing port, with numerous purse seine and gillnet vessels active all year, as well as other coastal ventures that include seaweed and shell fish gathering, plus a growing marine tourism industry.   

Through the work of the Albatross Task Force we have been gathering as well, not shell fish but important data on vulnerable species interactions with the main fisheries. One of the lesser understood fisheries here is the gillnet fleet, which uses 40 to 200 metre-long monofilament nets which are set in around 15 m deep water. Up to eleven nets are deployed by each 10 m wooden vessel every day, powered by a small outboard engine.  

Below: Juan-Carlos Gonzalez aboard a gillnet vessel off the coast of Arica, Chile. Photo: JC Gonzalez

The coastal waters of Arica are also important foraging grounds for green turtles Chelonia Mydas, which are resident off the coast all year round. During our monitoring of the fisheries we have discovered cases of incidental bycatch of these turtles. The individuals observed caught were released alive, but this may not always be the case. Unfortunately we also recorded seabird bycatch, and due to their limited dive ability the seabirds are normally found dead during the haul.

Below: A green turtle caught in gillnet fishing gear is left to rest before being released. Photo: JC Gonzalez

Monitoring fisheries is the first step toward understanding the level of not only seabird bycatch, but also other vulnerable species like turtles and dolphins. By doing so we can establish what factors contribute to the bycatch events and use this information to develop strategies with the industry to avoid sensitive times and areas or help modify the gear and operation to prevent the bycatch. The next steps are to trial the proposed mitigation measures to determine what solutions can be introduced in these fisheries to enable long-established fishing traditions to continue without endangering vulnerable species. 

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