Fishermen call for use of new technology to reduce effects on seabirds

30th June 2016

The South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association and the Great Australian Bight Fishing Industry Association (GABIA) have developed world leading technology that reduces interactions between trawlers and seabirds by up to 96%. Plans are in place to roll this technology out across the trawl fleet.

Trawl fishermen from both Commonwealth managed trawl fisheries in South Australia are committed to minimising our environmental impact while catching fresh locally sourced fish for all Australians.  This includes reducing our impacts on seabirds like albatrosses.  Seabirds are attracted to our fishing operations by the sight and smell of fish and sometimes they interact with the steel cables (warps) used to tow trawls.  An interaction is any contact between a fishing vessel and a seabird that causes deviation to its path, distress, injury or death.

In 2010 the trawl industry supported a management rule which saw all trawl vessels use pinkies – large brightly coloured inflatable boys that physically push seabirds to the sides of the two warps where they enter the water.  Pinkies have proven to reduce seabird warp strikes by around 75% compared to unprotected warps with no mitigation device.  However, pinkies can become tangled in fishing gear and we believed we could do better to further reduce interactions with seabirds.

In 2014 we received an Australian Government grant of $360,000.  A steering committee of trawl fishermen from the Great Australian Bight and South East Australia, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), the Australian Antarctic Division, Fishwell Consulting and the CSIRO oversaw a project during which a delegation travelled to New Zealand, (where the seabird issue is more significant), to identify and adapt seabird mitigation devices that might work in Australia.  The team returned, built and fine-tuned two new devices, designed a scientific testing program and then used independent sea-going observers to complete a study on their efficacy.

A device called a sprayer sprays seawater on the area where the warp enters the water.  Seabirds hate being sprayed so keep away from warps.  The sprayer is now proven to reduce interactions by 90%.

A second device called a bird baffler creates a long curtain of ropes and pieces of plastic piping which acts as a fence to prevent seabirds from entering the danger zone near the warps.  The trial has shown that bird bafflers reduce interactions by 96%.

AFMA have now approved both devices for seabird mitigation.

SETFIA and GABIA have taken the further step of calling on AFMA to mandate that all vessels must use one of the following three seabird mitigation strategies by April 30, 2017

  1. Sprayers
  2. Bird bafflers
  3. Pinkies and stringent offal management rules  sufficient to remove the attractiveness of the vessel to seabirds

AFMA have agreed and have written to trawl operators advising them of these new rules.  From May 2017 (the new fishing season) all seabirds in the Southern Ocean will be protected from Commonwealth managed trawlers’ warps by one of these strategies.

We thank the members of the project’s steering committee; the seagoing observer, the owners and crew of the trial vessels; the Imlay and the Lady Miriam, and finally the Australian Government for their generosity in supporting our commitment to saving seabirds.

[Image of Southern Bullers Albatross copyright Tamar Wells.]