BYCATCH PROBLEMS IN ECUADOR AND PERU
The magnitude of the seabird, sea turtle and dolphin death toll in the fisheries of Peru and Ecuador, is sparsely documented but considered a major cause for concern. Casualties include globally threatened species, some that are local and some that are migrants from afar.
Thanks to Australian funding from Humane Society International and the Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association, a significant contribution toward reducing the high risk of wildlife bycatch, particularly in the artisanal longline fisheries of Ecuador and Peru was made possible in Feb 2010. This was a collaborative effort being led by American Bird Conservancy in partnership with the NGO groups Pro-delphinus (Peru) and Equilibro Azul (Ecuador) to specifically tackle the incidental death of the critically endangered Waved Albatross and other threatened seabirds on artisanal longline fishing hooks. The Waved albatross breeds only in Ecuador but forages extensively in Peru. Other species at high risk include the Parkinson's petrel which comes all the way from breeding grounds in New Zealand.
With some 40,000 boats fishing their foraging area including several thousand longline vessels, the mortality rates are indeed high – and they have the potential to get higher as these artisanal fisheries become progressively more mechanised.
The main objective of the project was to provide local conservation NGO's and fishermen with the technical know-how they would require to help make the right choices for minimising bycatch in the inevitable process of mechanisation and gear upgrading. Nigel Brothers, a globally renowned bycatch mitigation expert from Australia, was hired by the project to provide this technical know-how. Visits to fishing ports in Peru and Ecuador were undertaken in order to meet with boat owners in the process of gear upgrading, or to talk with those who had already changed to mechanised gear. During these visits, the fishing gear being used was reviewed and discussed in terms of the specific level of risk of seabird capture by the artisanal vessels.
Nigel also gave talks at the government fisheries Institute Nacional de Pesca, at the Univesidad Estabal Peninsula de Santa Elena and at Conservacion International Ecuador in Guayaquil and at Birdlife International Ecuador.
With continued funding, the local NGO's in both countries will be better able to keep ahead of a vast fishing fleet that could in the course of gear upgrades and mechanisation inadvertently create even greater bycatch problems than may already exist. The NGOs will also continue to try to lever action from the Peruvian and Ecuadorian governments to address fishing overcapacity and bycatch in their gill net and longline fleets.
Although bycatch issues of more industrialised longline fishing and their potential solutions have been intensively investigated, similar aspects of artisanal fisheries have been somewhat neglected and are relatively poorly understood. This project has therefore attempted to tackle a logistically difficult, economically and socially complex problem by providing technical expertise to local organizations devoted to the issue.
IMAGES: (right) Nigel Brothers talking with fishermen unloading in Ecuador; (left) Small section of the vast net longline fishing fleet in Santa Rosa, Ecuador.
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