Today's blog is from Luis Cabezas, ATF team leader in Chile who explains some of the challenges faced this year with the small-scale fishing fleet in Chile.

Amongst the challenges ATF Chile faced in 2013 was developing a preliminary understanding of how the artisanal or small scale fleet interacts with seabirds, particularly the net fisheries. In Chile, the small-scale fleet is dominated by purse-seine vessels that target small pelagic fish like sardines and anchovy and gillnet vessels, which target a wide variety of species.

Artisanal vessels are recognised as those with a total length under 18 m.  The majority of these vessels remain at sea for limited periods of time and generally have a small crew. The purse-seine vessels typically carry 10 to 12 people, while gillnet boats only carry two to four crew. Because of these size and capacity limitations, artisanal vessels rarely work beyond 5 nautical miles offshore.

In poor weather conditions, with rolling swells and strong winds it is simply not safe for these vessels to operate. As the south of Chile has frequent weather systems hitting the west coast from the Pacific, the Chilean port authorities maintain strict controls and will keep ports closed to small boats until conditions are considered calm enough. Rough weather therefore not only restricts artisanal fishermen from their work, but also prevents us from collecting the data we need.

2013 has been characterised by repeated rough weather up the Pacific coast, and we have been able to conduct a limited number of trips, which is extremely frustrating for the team. While poor sea conditions were the main problem this year, another factor also caused difficulties. Low catches of sardine and anchovy have resulted in fishery closures leading to further social conflicts between industrial and artisanal sectors in the central-southern regions of Chile. 

We have seen different sides of the dispute as in previous years we worked aboard industrial vessels, which are able to brave all but the worst of sea conditions. It is a complex situation to deal with as the fishery resources are scarce despite being one of the most productive marine systems on the planet. Overfishing in the past and new regulations have created tough conditions for the artisanal sector in Chile. 

With the weather and fisheries conflicts causing real grief throughout the winter, it was with great enthusiasm and cheer that the austral winter gave way to the calmer spring and summer months! As we move into full summer we are now generating the vessel time we need and are happily back into full swing.

Below: Interactions between purse-seine vessels and pelicans. These birds were released unharmed. Photo by Luis Cabezas.