Each year an estimated 400,000 seabirds are killed in gillnet fisheries, while no estimates exist yet for purse seine fleets. Little attention has been given to purse seine fisheries as it was thought they had little impact on seabirds. Alarming new evidence is starting to change that perspective.

The Albatross Task Force has been monitoring both of these fisheries in three countries, Chile, Peru and Ecuador as part of a project funded through the RSPB and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The main objective of the project is to identify the scale of bycatch in these fisheries, particularly of the pink-footed shearwater Puffinus creatopus. This incredible bird migrates from the main breeding colony on Mocha Island and two islands of the Juan Fernandez group (Robinson Crusoe Island and Santa Clara) along the west coast of the Americas to Alaska.  

Below: a pink-footed shearwater. Photo by Luis Cabezas, ATF Chile

Along the migration route the shearwaters follow the Pacific coast of South America, where the nutrient rich waters of the Humboldt Current maintain one of the world's most productive ecosystems. The main target species in these fisheries are sardine and anchovy, with between one and three million tonnes landed each year almost entirely through purse seine fisheries. 

Last week as part of the project, the Albatross Task Force held a technical workshop in Lima, Peru hosted by local partner ProDelphinus. The main objective was to review the information gathered at sea over the first year and identify potential solutions to seabird bycatch. While advances have been made in mitigating marine mammal and turtle bycatch in gillnets, little has been done for seabirds and nothing exists for purse seine fisheries. 

This project is therefore a huge challenge but we are confident our experience working with fisheries to reduce seabird bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries has given us a good understanding of how to approach such a challenge, but it is nevertheless a daunting task.   The workshop brought together experts from relevant government departments, non-governmental organisations and industry and provided an invaluable opportunity to put our heads together and develop some innovative ideas that we shall be working on and testing in the coming months. 

Below: participants from the workshop hold a model purse seine net from Patricio Krause of KraNet Ltd. Photo by Luis Cabezas, ATF Chile