The Seabird Task Force team in Lithuania (Lithuanian Ornithological Society (LOD), has been preparing all summer and autumn for the winter fishing period. The aim of our project (and the focus of our field work this season) is to reduce by-catch of sea birds during the wintering season.
For this purpose, we have made 800 high contrast ‘panels’ to attach to 47 nets which we hope will alert the birds to the nets in the water- (ie. scaring them away). Each of the modified nets has 10 to 13 black and white striped panels placed every 4 meters. Another very important aspect this field season will be to test the efficiency of the modified fishing nets- to see if they manage to catch fish as well as the normal nets. The ideal outcome for the project would be to find new fishing measures which do not harm seabirds and do not reduce fish catches!
In late October, we began testing the modified nets with coastal fishermen at sea. Ten fishermen in total are working with us; seven inshore fishermen started fishing cod with the modified and control nets, covering almost all of the Lithuanian coastal zone, and we hope to commence fieldwork with three larger gillnet vessels imminently. Along the Curonian Spit, where currently there are already abundant numbers of wintering birds, the trial fishing trips will be more frequently than in other areas.
Fishing with the modified nets uses exactly the same principle as normal fishing. Nets tend to be left in the sea overnight and the next day they are hauled back in. Nets are deployed 100m to 3 kilometers from the shore in depths of between 10 and 22 meters. Later, when nets are hauled, the fishermen operating smaller vessels calculate catch from both the modified and the unmodified nets. The fishermen add all their records on fish size to specially designed forms, where they also can make remarks on bird bycatch and the fate of them, as well as things like seal damage to fish and nets. On vessels larger than 8 meters in length, the fishermen carry one of the Seabird Task Force observers who collect data on fish catch and bycatch from nets, and also count wintering seabirds to understand the areas with the highest density, where interactions with gillnets are likely to have the greatest impact.