by Jeni Bone
The New Zealand fishing industry says it’s committed to change, hoping to embrace initiatives that reduce the impact of their industry on sea birds, and a newly formed alliance is keen to support ideas and inventions from industry that will help.
Albatross are just one of the species grouping around fishing boats
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), more than 40,000 seabirds are killed around New Zealand every year after flying into ships harvesting seafood.
Sea birds swarm to fishing vessels, thinking there’s a meal to be had and can often end up tangled in cables attached to trawler nets or caught on baited hooks.
New Zealand’s largest seafood brand, delivering NZ$500 million worth of seafood to more than 60 countries each year, Sealord won an award last year for trying to reduce the number of birds killed.
Sealord’s Paul Taylor said the ocean is the seabirds' environment and the fishing industry needs to respect that.
Devices called birds bafflers are being used, hung down from the sides of vessels to fend off birds. Operators also limit the amount of offal dumped overboard, as this attracts hungry birds.
'We want to play our part to be responsible in this fishery, and it's just the right thing to do,' said Taylor.
A trust called Southern Seabird Solutions has also been set up to hold companies to account.
It brings together seafood industry heavyweights, which Molloy said was a challenge in itself.
'There wasn't much cooperation between the different groups that were interested in the issue, so government, fishing industry, NGOs, environment groups just weren't really having constructive discussions on the issue.'
Southern Seabird Solutions is keen to hear from industry if there are any ideas for reducing sea bird fatalities.
The fishing industry/conservation alliance wants to help fishermen test and develop promising ideas to keep seabirds away from fishing gear where they are at risk of being injured or killed. Until the end of February, the group is open to hearing suggestions.
'We know that fishermen have really good, practical ideas about what will work out on the water, and we’re keen to hear them,' says Southern Seabird Solutions Convenor Janice Molloy. 'We can help you turn a great idea into a tip, technique or technology that’s good for trawl or line fishing, and good for seabirds.'
Ideas often need help to be discovered and to really shine. The development and testing of Integrated Weighted Lines (IWL) for demersal longline gear is a good example of the value of working together. In 2000 the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) introduced line-weighting standards for vessels which use automated baiting/setting systems to fish in the cold Antarctic waters.
This meant crews working in the Antarctic toothfish fisheries had to attach heavy weights one by one as they set the line, and then take them off again as they hauled the line – a time-consuming, fiddly and expensive process, as it meant vessels could only put about two-thirds the number of hooks they wanted in the water.
New Zealand Longline manager Malcolm McNeill was sure there must be a better way. He joined forces with scientists Graham Robertson (from the Australian Antarctic Division) and Ed Melvin (Washington Sea Grant), who were both working on ways to reduce seabird deaths on longline fisheries in Alaska’s Bering Sea.
They knew that line-weighting worked, but there were problems with it that needed fixing. The main problem was that while the weights would sink quickly, the line and hooks between the weights would remain close to the surface, posing a threat to seabirds.
They joined forces with New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries scientist Neville Smith to test integrating weights into the lines to make them sink better. Experiments in New Zealand’s sub-antarctic region showed a 94-99 percent reduction in catch of white-chinned petrels, a diving species of seabird. Moreover, vessels found they caught more fish using the Integrated Weighted Lines because crews didn’t have to spend as long taking weights on and off, and the gear sank to target depths more quickly while baits were fresher and more attractive to toothfish.
These positive results attracted attention – and funding – from the fishing industry and gear suppliers, among others. Today, IWLs are the first choice for autoline vessels fishing for toothfish in CCAMLR waters and for ling in New Zealand waters. Australian bycatch expert Barry Baker says this is a great example of a good idea that worked because of partnership between fishermen, researchers and government agencies.
'The reason that idea succeeded is because people worked together to make it happen, and that’s what we’re looking for,' he says.
Southern Seabird Solutions appointed Baker as its international mitigation mentor last year, and he works closely with a referral group made up of international fishing, business and research experts. The group’s brief is to provide feedback on the design of any new ideas, guidance about the necessary development and testing steps, advice about possible collaboration partners and sources of funding, and on-going support for promising ideas. Baker says every member of the referral group has expertise relevant to developing and testing new mitigation techniques and practices.
'We are totally focused on hearing how we can help develop the good ideas that we know are out there, and turning these into workable solutions, so please get in touch,' he says.
Interested fishers and inventors can find out more at www.southernseabirds.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org