ALFA attended the International Whale Depredation Workshop in Chile

International Whale Depredation Workshop                                                                       COLTO (Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators)                                                                     Jeff Farvour (ALFA) and Jan Straley (UAS) represented SEASWAP                                       15-18 March 2016, Punta Arenas, Chile

SEASWAP was invited to participate in a whale depredation workshop and to present our understanding of depredation in Alaskan waters at an international whale depredation workshop in Punta Arenas, Chile hosted by COLTO in mid-March. The workshop was attended by about 40 people. Attendees included vessel owners, two fisherman (Jeff and John Bennett, a vessel captain from NZ), fisheries managers, whale biologist (Jan Straley, Paul Tixier) and other scientists, government representatives, processors, buyers and fishing gear manufacturers from Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Falkland Islands, South Africa, France, UK, Japan, Norway, Uruguay and USA.

“COLTO was founded in 2003 by legal industry members to eliminate IUU (illegal, unregulated and unreported) fishing for toothfish, and improve sustainability of toothfish stocks.  At that time, estimates of IUU catches had been double the legal catches of toothfish – mainly being illegally taken from within national waters (Exclusive Economic Zones – EEZs).  Through the combined efforts of CCAMLR, Flag States, Port States, conservation NGOs and industry, those levels of IUU fishing inside national EEZs have been virtually zero since 2005.”

Aims of the COLTO Working Group (WG) on Depredation and the COLTO Depredation Workshop were:

“Investigate Sperm whale (SW) and Killer whale (KW) depredation on Toothfish longline fisheries, including assessment of the socio-economic and conservation impacts of depredation; the impacts on depredated Toothfish in a fisheries management context; and the development of mitigation solutions. The WG also aims to develop management strategies to prevent depredation from starting, and subsequently spreading, in fishing areas where it has not yet been reported.”

The workshop, which was sponsored by COLTO, AOBAC (Association of Operators of Magellan Sea Bass), Kendall Seafoods and WWF, lasted three days with 25 presentations in 9 sessions and 5 facilitated open discussions.  SEASWAP presented 7 presentations.  NOAA was represented by Megan Peterson (a contractor for NOAA on a post doc) and she gave three presentations.

The group was very welcoming and extremely appreciative of our ability to participate. Immediately apparent was that, although there were some obvious operational differences between the COLTO toothfish longline fisheries and Alaska’s sablefish longline fleet, it is clear that whale depredation in the COLTO fisheries is very similar to what we are experiencing in Alaska. In some cases, depredation in toothfish fisheries was even more dynamic because of significant mixing of sperm and killer whale activity within certain sub areas. The COLTO toothfish fishery occurs in the southern oceans between 60° S up to 45° S in some areas and is fished with demersal longlines in depths of 300 to over 1000 fathoms on about 39 CP longliners, 155-175 ft in length. Longline sets are soaked for up to 2 days and fishing trips can last up to 3 months.

During the workshop, it was pointed out that like sablefish, toothfish are a natural part of a SWs diet.  Giant squid and sharks are common depredators of toothfish, and occasionally pinnipeds, as well. SWs observed in toothfish fishing areas by some vessels may be immature (need to check with Dirk). Presenters on the overall SO problem with catch removals by whales also stressed the desire to understand if whales are migrating or not, historical sightings- are more whales showing up to fishing grounds for opportunistic depredation, if toothfish are also natural prey for KWs, does skipper behavior affect depredation avoidance,  (see workshop findings).  These were concepts discussed by multiple attendees.

COLTO WG members presented various deterrent and avoidance measures undertaken by COLTO members including: gear switch to pots, which proved unsuccessful, also concerns with lost pots, dropping gear back down and waiting until whales move on, moving to other fishing grounds, faster hauling speed, Mustads OrcaSaver which may have some undocumented effectiveness amongst one workshop participant.

(V 2.0 of OrcaSaver is now available through Mustad); and “Cachaloteras”  (gear modification devices) which are being used by some toothfish vessels as an effective but labor intensive method that reduces SWs depredation but not KWs.

Jeff presented the salient historical events and structure of Alaska’s sablefish fishery, sperm whale depredation trends in the Gulf of Alaska and next steps for SEASWAP.

Jan gave presentations which involved the history of SEASWAP, cultural transmission of depredation in the Gulf of Alaska, use of acoustics in depredation and movements and associations of sperm whales.  Also she gave a presentation on real time monitoring and the communication avoidance network.

We heard from the industry biologists and vessel skippers (toothfish vessels that were also engaged in research), about toothfish surveys and whale identification, tagging and biological sampling.

WG members were especially eager to learn of SEASWAPs collaborative structure and how to cultivate a strong collaborative working environment with progressive outcomes. Of particular interest to the WG was SEASWAPs acoustic research, playback devices, camera work, and towed array. Our communication network, bubblers, pods and exploring efficacy of jammers generated discussion as well. Essentially they were interested in what worked and has not worked for SEASWAP.  It was interesting to learn that none of these methods of research (except some minor camera work) have been explored by COLTO members,  however, much enthusiasm was expressed in further research. Of particular interest were the assumptions made on whale behavior vs. what was learned after tagging and camera work by both SEASWAP and COLTO members: killer whales diver much deeper and stay down much longer than previously thought, sperm whales will navigate narrow relatively shallow areas in transit to other areas, sperm whales do not always opt for fish from longlines even within “dinner bell” range, elephant seals dive much deeper than previously thought, not all killer whales depredate when around a vessel.

Immediately after the workshop convened, we started an email thread with interested COLTO members and SEASWAP discussing our GoPro work and other questionsregarding hydrophones. After sharing (thanks to Lauren Wild) specs of our cameras, housings and lights the discussion immediately turned to refinements such as finding timers that work with our light housings and methods to improve orientation of the cameras to achieve a higher success of useful footage. The Falkland fishing industry representatives were especially engaged on this concept and other aspects of tracking sperm whales behavior around their vessel.

The COLTO WG is very motivated to address depredation as it was COLTOs next priority after eliminating illegal toothfish fishing. Immediate benefits for SEASWAP to collaborate with COLTO (SEASWAP International or IWAP-International Whale Avoidance Project, or WAPI ??) as we can only gain from sharing in our efforts. Short term projects might include: setting up a network (website) for sharing camera and whale behavioral knowledge and ID, securing funding for a joint post doc position for Paul Tixier; Midterm: efficacy of deterrents/avoidance, SW and KW tagging and sampling; Long term: identifying successful measures for deterrent/avoidance suited to a variety of fishing operations, vessel sizes and spatial conditions. We should also consider collaborating with gear manufacturers Mustad (focused mostly on OrcaSaver) andFiskevegn (Catcheloteras, Catch Protection Devices, quieter gear, tornado trolling). Both companies were in attendance and presented their companies perspective on devices for mitigating whale depredation (although efficacy untested).  Mustad is very interested in testing their new device with robust study design.  They do not want to sell a deterrent that is ineffective. Mustad supports Research and Development of their products.

We will provide PDFs of our presentations and files with film footage from workshop participants.  COLTO will have findings/minutes available soon.

Overall, it was a great opportunity that opened robust dialogue between two longline fisheries on opposite ends of the hemisphere to collaborate on whale depredation solutions.