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Fish oil to prevent seabird bycatch

Fish oil to prevent seabird bycatch – NZ longliner wins world prize

A Leigh snapper fisher will share a $34,040 international prize for his novel idea of dripping fish oil behind longline vessels to deter seabirds during bait-setting.

The Conservation Department, a member of an inter-agency, environmental and fishing industry alliance called Southern Seabird Solutions which promotes seabird-safe fishing practices, congratulated Alex Aitken today on his innovative method of keeping seabirds away from baited hooks during line-setting.

Mr Aitken, a longliner skipper for 24 years, said in his competition entry that he used to catch around 100 seabirds a year, mainly shearwaters, till he discovered that birds avoided oil on the water surface. That, and a birdscaring streamer line flown behind the vessel had reduced his seabird bycatch to around five a year.

“We begin by salting down pilchard, anchovy or tuna into a drum, best if the fish is cut [open first],” Mr Aitken said. “This allows the oil to drain from the body of the fish. The best result is after about four or five days.”

The oil formed a slick behind the vessel that biodegraded within minutes, enough time for baited hooks to sink out of reach of birds, he said. The method allowed him to set baits during daytime, previously not possible because of masses of seabirds fouling on hooks and drowning, or stealing baits.

Mr Aitken shares BirdLife International’s “competition of ideas” prize with an Australian tuna fisherman, Peter Robinson of Newcastle, who independently developed the same idea.

The Spanish branch of BirdLife International received 87 entries from 11 countries, mainly Spain and New Zealand, as well as the United States, Canada, Australia, Ecuador and Uruguay, by the competition closing date of 30 June, 2003.

Seabird bycatch is a key concern for the non-governmental bird conservation organisation, which has said it wants to work with the fishing industry to solve the problem.

BirdLife International says on its web site that more than 300,000 seabirds are killed on longline hooks each year worldwide and that 26 species of seabird, including 17 species of albatross, face extinction because of longlining.

An international panel of 12 fishing and seabird conservation experts judged competition entries on viability, effects on fishing, originality, cost, and applicability to other fisheries.

“The winning idea is simple, cheap, easy to use and totally effective in the tests that we have carried out, just what we were looking for,” BirdLife International seabird conservation officer Carles Carboneras said today.

More experiments would be needed to prove that the technique was harmless to birds, he said.

“We invite fishermen to test the idea, if possible accompanied by a streamer line, and tell us their experiences.”

DOC representative to Southern Seabird Solutions Janice Molloy said Mr Aitken’s fish oil idea was a good example of proactive action by the fishing industry.

Current bycatch mitigation methods include streamers (tori lines), loud sounds and bright lights to scare birds; nighttime line-setting; underwater bait and line-setting; blue-dyed bait, which birds appear not to recognise as bait; weights attached to fishing lines to speed up bait sinking.

The competition was supported by the Spanish savings bank Caixa Galicia, Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and BirdLife branches in the United Kingdom and The Netherlands.

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