Seabirds are attracted to fishing vessels by the sight and smell of fish and fish offal. At times seabirds have no interest in fishing vessels but at other times their behaviour becomes frenzied. During these periods they can be injured or killed when they strike the steel cables (warps) used to tow trawl nets.
SETFIA members are committed to minimising their environmental impact while catching fresh fish for Australians. This includes minimising interactions with seabirds. An interaction is any contact between the vessel and a seabird that causes injury, death or distress.
As a condition on their fishing permit all trawlers in the South East Trawl Fishery must follow the directions of an approved Seabird Management Plan at all times. This plan directs each vessel to manage offal in a particular way and deploy an approved physical mitigation device when fishing in daylight hours.
SETFIA and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority have worked together to develop, trial and implement a range of physical devices which reduce interactions. Three physical devices have been developed or are undergoing development:
Pinkies (originally called warp deflectors) large brightly coloured inflatable boys designed to physically push seabirds to either side of the area where the warp (enters the water. Pinkies have been used by the majority of the fleet since 2010 and have proven to reduce seabird warp strikes by around 75% compared to bare warps with no mitigation device (source). See a video of the pinkies in action here.
Australian Government Assistance
In 2014, SETFIA received an Australian Government ‘Caring for our Country’ grant of $350,000 to travel to New Zealand on a study tour and then develop and test devices and techniques to protect seabirds in the South East Trawl and Great Australian Bight Trawl Fisheries. Two devices have been developed and trialled – sprayers and bafflers.
Seabird sprayers create a curtain of moderate pressure water jets around the area where the warp enters the water. This device has proven very effective at reducing warp strikes and during our trial vessel returned a 92% per cent improvement over bare warps. Sprayers have now been approved by AFMA as an official mitigation method which is available for all trawl boats to use if they wish. See the sprayers in action here: Video 1 , Video 2
The bird baffler creates a long curtain of ropes and pieces of plastic piping which acts as a fence to prevent seabirds from coming alongside the rear of the vessel where warp strikes may occur. So far this device has proved very effective, offering a 96% reduction in warp strikes compared to a bare warp. See the device baffling birds here and here. Note how the albatrosses can see the discarded fish on the inside of the fence, but can’t get through to grab them until they are well clear of the danger zone. Bird Bafflers have now been approved by AFMA as an official mitigation method which is available for all trawl boats to use if they wish.