Some time ago I wrote about the challenges for small scale fishers in Chile, who are represented by fragile working conditions and confront stormy waters in the ironically named Pacific Ocean.
I have always tried to highlight the role of small scale fishers as providing an important source of nutrition and tourism for local economies, as well as holding a wealth of knowledge that is relevant for future marine conservation action.
Because of this, working with them through the Albatross Task Force has given us irreplaceable experiences and led to some innovative solutions toward reducing the interaction between small scale purse seine and gillnet fisheries and seabirds in the Humboldt Current.
Below: Small-scale purse seine fishermen in Coquimbo, Chile. Photo by Paola Palavecino.
Together with Japan, Chile is one of the most seismic countries in the world, and has been affected by 10 earthquakes in the past two years, half of which have caused tsunamis. Of course these events are most closely felt by the coastal communities and especially the small scale fishing fleets.
On the 16th September a magnitude 8.3 earthquake hit the central north coast of Chile around Illapel, 189 km to the south of the bay of Coquimbo (29 degrees south). A total of 15 people tragically lost their lives, with 4.5 m waves created by the earthquake crashing through port installations and infrastructure.
The small scale fishers of the region lost some 400 boats to the tsunami, but despite this massive impact were the first to find the way to get to sea straight away to rescue survivors and search for people who were swept away by the waves.
Further south, in the coastal town of Coronel, where the community was still recovering from the tsunami of 2010 the locals gathered food and supplies to send to the communities in the north.
While these coastal towns start to rebuild through support from volunteers and the local authorities, it is necessary to remember the smaller coastal villages and localities that are further removed from the urban centres. A total of 23 of these small ports were affected by the tsunami around Coquimbo.
As observers of the marine environment, we ought to recognise the capacity of the fishing communities to endure these incredible natural disasters and return to the ocean to which they belong.
The same ocean supports the seabirds, which serve as important indicators of marine resources for the fishers. After working together, the communities recognise the impacts that they can have on the ocean ecosystem, as well as the impacts the ocean can have on them. Through this work we are finding solutions to incidental seabird bycatch and developing alternative methods that can be used as mitigation measures for small scale fleets.
For all these reasons, we hope with all our hearts that they are able to return to sea as soon as possible, to rebuild their lives after this most recent challenge. For our part, we will continue working with them, counting on their unshakable resolve, to find and develop measures that prevent the incidental capture of seabirds.
For the fishers, their families and all the small coastal communities, we wish you a swift recovery and send you strength lads!
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