For Love Of Birds

Over the past week there has been a fluttering of media activity around new fishing rules intended to help reduce seabird captures. From 1 October, all surface longline (SLL) fishers must use hookpods (special hook shielding devices) or implement three key seabird mitigation measures at the same time (tori line, weighted hooks and setting at night).

Experience to date tells us that a one-size-fits-all approach does not always result in reduced seabird interactions. What we’ve found to deliver the best results is working alongside fishers to develop practical solutions for their vessel and for their fishery. We also encourage innovation as much as possible.

These new rules ruffled our feathers a little because SLL fishers have been working hard to continually improve in this space and have been hugely proactive – they’ve been innovating, trialling new devices and adopting seabird mitigation measures that go above and beyond these new regulations.

One SLL skipper we spoke to earlier this year said, “They’re awesome, we love watching the birds. We’re often portrayed as being bird killers, and sure it does happen, but we don’t want it to happen. We’re thinking about the marine life around us at all times.”

And what seabird mitigation measures does this SLL skipper use? As well as using hookpods (prior to this becoming a requirement), he’s dyeing the bait blue – making it almost invisible to most seabirds, line weighting and setting at night. So, above and beyond.

A second SLL fisher we spoke to also uses a cocktail of seabird mitigation measures when out fishing.

“With the tori line, the weighted gear and the hookpods – which is the set up I’ve got – you’re pretty much covered. We also use minimal lighting when setting at night, making sure nothing lights up the line…then throughout the day we have streamers hanging off the sides of the boat to stop the birds swooping in to get hooked.” Again, this fisher is going above and beyond.

As well as doing the right thing out fishing, many fishers volunteer their time and vessels to trial new mitigations.

One such trial, of a new weighted hook called the Procella 2.0, is currently taking place off the east coast of the North Island. Three SLL fishers have been heavily involved in the design of this new hook, and two are now trialling the device on their vessels to understand whether there is any impact on target catch rate (and seabirds). What makes this hook a little different is the weight is built into the shank of the hook, not secured above the hook on the branchline.

So far, the message from the fishing grounds is, “hooks went mint” – high praise indeed. We plan to update you all on this important mahi in the September issue of the Seafood Magazine.

This trial is a fantastic example of Seafood New Zealand working alongside Government and Southern Seabirds Trust (a forum for industry, environmental organisations, and Government bodies to work together) to do great things, and crucially the fishers were with us from the start.

The trial is also of global significance as the manufacturing of these hooks was funded by the Agreement of the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP). All going well, the Procella 2.0 has the potential to become recognised as a tool to help fishers achieve global best-practice. The health and safety risk of this weighted hook (weighted hooks are known to create a risk of flybacks, which can injure fishing crew), is also kindly being tested by Tuna Australia, highlighting our ever-growing and collaborative Trans-Tasman relationship.

/Public Release. View in full here.