30 Aug 2017

What is life like as a member of the Albatross Task Force?

Nahuel Chavez has worked with the Albatross Task Force since 2009 to save seabirds in fisheries off the coast of Argentina. It is estimated that around 13,500 Black-browed Albatross are killed in the trawl fleets every year. Chavez and his team are working to change that.

Black-browed Albatross © Liam Quinn
By Stephanie Winnard

Interview conducted by Stephanie Winnard, Albatross Task Force Project Manager. 

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How did you become an Albatross Task Force instructor (ATF)?

 I met Leo Tamini (the Argentina ATF team leader) in 2007 when I participated in a fishery observer training course in Mar del Plata, Argentina where I was studying biology. In 2008 I became a fisheries observer and on my third trip I went aboard a longliner where I had to record albatross mortality and take pictures. Not long after that trip Leo asked if I would like to become part of Aves Argentinas (the BirdLife partner in Argentina) and the ATF. To start with I had a part time contract and did my first ATF trip in October 2009. When I started as an observer and saw the seabirds around the boat I couldn’t tell the difference between the species. I said “They are all the same!”

Would you say that going on the longliner and witnessing the bycatch was what made you want to work with the ATF?

Yes definitely. The first time I went on a longliner and saw the huge mortality of albatrosses   I knew we had to do something to stop it. I saw on average 40 albatrosses an hour being killed. It was terrible to see.

Chavez holding a bycatch victim.

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What does your role as an ATF instructor involve?

Today I go onboard boats in the southern trawl fleet out of the port of Ushuaia and teach fishermen about mitigation measures, including bird scaring lines. I love working with the fishermen to change their ideas and increase the use of bird-scaring lines to save albatross.

What is the hardest part of your job?

When I’m at sea I miss my wife and family. The hardest times are when things happen on land and you can’t do anything. In 2015 when I got back from a trip I found out my father was seriously ill. Luckily now he is well but it’s tough to be away from family when they need you.   

At sea the hardest part is the inherent danger of being on a boat out in the open ocean, the wild climate, and the storms. I always have one or two days during the trip when I am in a bad mood and I just want to be alone, which is impossible on a ship! I try to be more patient and relaxed on these days. It was harder on the smaller boats from Mar del Plata where they were only 28-35 metres long, whereas in Ushuaia the boats are between 60-120 metres. It’s like being on a cruise ship!

Around 13,500 Black-browed Albatross are killed by trawl fleets every year.

What has been the biggest success to date for the ATF in Argentina?

After several years work lobbying the fishing authorities of our country, in March 2017 regulations were announced requiring the mandatory use of bird-scaring lines on freezer trawlers .  Vessels will for now deploy the lines voluntarily and in May 2018 their use will become obligatory.

What are the main tasks that the ATF must carry out until the regulation is mandatory?

We have started by contacting the "bird-friendly" fishing companies to share the news of our recent achievement. On these companies vessels we’ve already had the opportunity to work onboard and have a good relationship. Next we will contact the companies of each freezer vessel affected by the regulations to provide them with the information and advice needed so that everyone can work without problems. At a later stage, we will monitor the use of the mitigation measure throughout the fleet. And we will continue trips at sea because we believe that it is fundamental to train the crew in the use of the lines.

Nahuel Chavez and other members of the ATF, working with a bird scaring line.

What do the new regulations for seabirds mean?

It is a very big step because, it means after all the efforts of the ATF and seabird research teams in Argentina we will now hopefully see some positive outcomes for albatross. We hope that regulation will help to improve the conservation status of seabirds but we understand that actions are needed in a number of areas (stopping accidental bycatch, removing introduced predators, strategic management of discards from vessels, and tracking work to understand areas important for birds) are necessary for these birds to continue to exist .

What do you do when you aren’t sailing the oceans saving albatross?

I love running. I ran five half marathons between 2014 and last year. I practice martial arts; I’m a black belt in karate and teach students.  I love spending time with my wife and friends at home, and I love sharks! My thesis at university was on the reproductive biology of coastal sharks in Argentina.



Read more about the ATF