Seabird success

All Commonwealth trawl vessels in South East Australia and the Great Australian Bight already operate under regulated Seabird Management Plans (SMPs) to minimise interactions with seabirds. Compliance with an SMP is a condition on the fishing license. Under these plans all vessels must manage their offal by batching or retaining it (to avoid attracting the seabirds) and use a mitigation device that protects seabirds from bumping into trawl cables.

Currently, the only mitigation device available to all trawl vessels in the fishery is the “pinky“, a buoy that is towed in the danger zone, just in front of where the trawl cables enter the water.

While pinkies have been shown to be effective at reducing seabird interactions (an AFMA report is pending), they can be operationally difficult to use on some vessels for a number of reasons. They are prone to tangle on the trawl cables, and because of the way some vessels are set up; some fishermen need to lean over the gunwale to reach the trawl cables. This is made worse if the net becomes snagged and has to reverse in order to retrieve the net. This raises real safety concerns especially at night and in bad weather.

Using a National Landcare Programme Innovation Grant from the Australian Government fishermen, Executive Officers from SETFIA and the Great Australian Bight Fishing Industry Association, a marine scientist and AFMA’s Bycatch and Discarding Manager travelled to New Zealand to find alternatives to pinkies that mitigate seabirds as well or better but are operationally easier to use.

New Zealand has much larger seabird populations than Australia, a much larger fishing fleet and more seabird/vessel interactions. Larger vessels in the Kiwi fleet are at the forefront of managing fishing interactions with seabirds.

The group attended the NZ Federation of Professional Fisherman’s Conference in Invercargill, where Portland skipper Ben Maas presented an overview of the project and the SESSF to the 120 participants.

Lead by expert Richard Wells from New Zealand’s Deepwater Group, the group travelled up the South Island from port to port meeting with fishermen, New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries staff, visiting fishing vessels, the Royal Albatross Centre, net makers and mitigation device distributors. Exposure to such range of people enabled the tour group to put management of seabird interactions in their fishery into perspective.

In Christchurch, the group learnt about seabird biology, distribution and migration from staff at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research’s Dr Paul Sagar, and undertook the renowned Seabird SMART training course run by Southern Seabird Solutions. This course covered seabird biology, interactions, mitigation devices and handling techniques.

The under-dressed delegation crossed Death’s Corner Arthur’s Pass en route to Greymouth, home to the infamous river bar crossing and Westfleet Seafoods. After visiting fishing vessels and a seafood processing plant there, they drove to Nelson for meetings at Sealord Group, a tour and an amazing dinner with Talley’s Group, and meetings with Mustad and the Deepwater Group Seabird Liaison Officer, John Cleal.

By the end of the trip, the group had been exposed to a wide variety of seabird mitigation devices (including a laser based system) and during a final debriefing session the group put forward mitigation devices they thought might work in the SESSF. As well as presenting some well-established designs, fishermen also came up with their own innovative ideas.

The seabird sprayer designed by Lakes Entrance trawl owners Tony Guarnaccia and Sot Sotirakis is showing great promise and will be further refined before being trialled under full scientific conditions. If successful it will be submitted to AFMA. Developmental trials on three other devices continue.

The trip’s progress can be reviewed on SETFIA’s Twitter feed.