Plight of the Pajarada

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Photos: Katrina Pyne for Hakai MagazinePhotos: Katrina Pyne for Hakai Magazine


Editors's note: This story and video were originally published in Hakai Magazine, a publication in Canada that explores science, society and the environment from a coastal perspective. 

In Patagonia, seabirds and artisanal hake fishers have a long-established relationship. Industrial fishers, not so much—and it’s not good for the birds.


By Katrina Pyne and Jude Isabella

Reciprocity is a practice ingrained in balance, seen across many cultures over millennia, and often associated with respect and sustainability. “Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken. Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever,” says author Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass.

Reciprocity is also the subject of interest for Jaime Ojeda, a graduate student at the University of Victoria (UVic) in British Columbia, who is based in Punta Arenas, Chile. Specifically, Ojeda is looking at the relationship between the artisanal hake fishers of the Strait of Magellan in Chilean Patagonia and the flocks of seabirds they follow to find schools of hake—a close relative of cod—deep below the surface. As thanks for the guidance they receive, the artisanal hake fishers feed the seabirds surrounding their boat with offal from the caught fish. Offal has become a key component of their diet, especially for the black-browed albatross. This reciprocal relationship is at the heart of the traditional fishery, which has aging fishers and little generational transfer of knowledge.



In Patagonia, hake was once like cod in eastern Canada, an affordable dish that graced dinner plates frequently. But the same old story—overfishing—has hit the hake fishery hard. Even a quota system put in place by the Chilean government in 2001, which favored the industrial fleet over the artisanal fishery, has done little to help the industry. Mostly, the quota system has led to a wave of illegal fishing.

Much like what happened to Canadian cod, depleted hake stocks have resulted in high prices and more hake fishers selling their quotas to the industrial fishers. The artisanal fishers are turning away from their craft and their children are moving on to other trades, often salmon farming.


Photos: Katrina Pyne for Hakai MagazinePhotos: Katrina Pyne for Hakai Magazine


Photos: Katrina Pyne for Hakai MagazinePhotos: Katrina Pyne for Hakai Magazine


The shift toward industrial fishing is bad news for the seabirds. The birds wind up as by-catch far more often in the trawling nets of industrial boats than on the longlines of the artisanal fleet.

It may be an inevitable loss of a reciprocal culture, but Ojeda and his supervisor Natalie Ban, at UVic’s School of Environmental Studies, wonder if there are ways to protect biodiversity and meet the needs of human communities through marine protected areas. It’s an age-old and complex dilemma, one that Indigenous communities in Canada have encountered as well. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from traditional communities that reactivate cultural practices of reciprocity, it’s that giving back may be the cure to unsustainable fishing practices.