First measures to reduce seabird bycatch in Portugal

By Iván Gutiérrez and Ana Santos, SPEA Bycatch Observers.

The team is focused on the contrast panels at the moment. We are getting them manufactured and deploying them in the water to make some preliminary tests. The aim is to have those 100% ready so we can start the mitigation tests to reduce seabird bycatch in Portuguese gillnet fisheries in September. So far, so good!

[This post is a follow up fromSeabird Task Force sets sail in Portugal]

When we received the news that the project had been approved we felt the hurry to start as soon as possible. But Christmas arrived and we hadn’t had enough time to search for a company to produce the contrast panels. We wanted to start right away so we decided to go the artisanal way – the team and their families started manufacturing the panels themselves!

Sewing the contrast panels © SPEA

The specific materials needed to resist salt water so they were not easy to find, but once we found them, the work went very well – about a third of the panels are done now! While some of us are still sewing, others are already fixing the contrast panels on the gillnets (those kindly provided by the team in Lithuania – thank you!).

At the end of April we started the on-board observations with the modified nets. This first test is very important in order to understand how practical the panels are for the fishermen. We also need to see which adjustments and changes need to be made to guarantee that in the next winter everything is operational for the real mitigation tests.

Contrast panels attached to the fishing net © SPEA

Until now the preliminary tests have gone very well. The presence of the panels in the gillnets does not seem to affect fish catch. In fact, the opposite happened: during test days catches were higher in the modified nets. More importantly, the modified nets do not disturb the fishers’ work which is one of our priorities.

In order to analyze the measures from an economic point of view, we are collecting data about the fish catches – total catch, species and fish size. We measure a determined fish sample from fishing events with and without panels in order to understand the differences.

Measuring fish catch © SPEA

On the trip back to the port, the fishermen had a big smile on their faces, because they initially thought that fish catch would be poor with these modified nets and that it would be difficult to work with these panels. Fortunately, the results have been quite positive and we are very pleased.

The next weeks we will continue to make on-board observations and testing these first mitigation measures in gillnets in Portugal.

It’s too early for conclusions, but hopefully the results will remain positive!

The team! © SPEA

Lights burn bright but no fish in sight

By Tomasz Linkowski & Anetta Ameryk, Polish National Marine Fisheries Research Institute NMFRI

The weather was fine but unfortunately the same could not be said about the fish. For over six months, fish have been “swept away” from the Puck Bay region. Fishers are constantly going out at sea, most of the time coming back empty-handed. Unfortunately, despite the lack of fish, we have still recorded some cases of seabird bycatch. We took the chance to try out our latest measures to keep seabirds out of gillnets!

As the catches were unprofitable, if it wasn’t for the project agreement, it’s very likely the fishers would have left ports much less frequently – but this was really an opportunity for us to check whether the net lights faced any operational issues in deployment.

Seabird bycatch was recorded despite the lack of fish, highlighting the importance to optimize our proposed measures to tackle the problem © Anetta Ameryk/Morski Instytut Rybacki

We had hoped to do similar testing with the West Pomeranian coastal fleet targetting herring, but this fleet had already switched on to fishing other species. Therefore in that region we will undertake all our studies in the autumn and winter of 2016/17.

The first light we tried out with the Puck Bay fleet was the YML-1000 lights we described in the previous entry. In the video below, you can see the fishermen attaching the lights to the nets.

Unfortunately, the lamps do seem to be affecting the fishing operations considerably. The boats need to slow down when deploying and retrieving the nets. When we deploy the nets, each lamp has to be held by hand in order to prevent them from hooking on the meshes below (see video below).

On top of that, when retrieving, it is necessary to hold the lights so as not to hit the deck which might risk damaging.

Over the summer, we’ll discuss these issues with other projects that have deployed net lights to see if there are helpful ways to work around the difficulties and speed up the operation.

In more encouraging news, after 240 hours of use, which is the time the nets were in the water, the lamps powered by two AA batteries were still shining. Battery life will be a very important part of the economic efficiency of this measure. And it is not only the cost of the battery, but the time needed to replace them through the entire set of nets.

Based on these initial results, it was clear it would be challenging to obtain statistically verifiable data on seabird bycatch for the time being. After 10 cruises, while it was useful to examine the operational issues with our measures, we decided to cease observations for the season.

The rest of the studies will be conducted at the end of this year or at the beginning of 2017. Feel free to sign up if you don’t want to miss our updates!

Seabird Task Force sets sail in Portugal

By Ana Almeida, Marine Conservation Officer at SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal).

Although accidental bycatch of seabirds is still largely unknown in Portugal, there are evidences from pioneering studies that prove that gillnets, longlines and purse seines are the fishing gear with the biggest impact. This is why BirdLife International, along with SPEA, is going to test some innovative mitigation measures to reduce seabird bycatch, never tried before in the Atlantic.

We will learn from the experience of our colleagues in Lithuania trialing high contrast panels. These will be attached to the nets, and hopefully will make it more visible for the birds, allowing them to swim around the nets, and avoiding being caught and consequently drown.

High contrast panels will be one of the measures we will try to tackle seabird bycatch.

We are now preparing all the logistic side of things in order to be ready to deploy the modified nets in the water in the next winter, since that is the crucial period for bycatch in Portugal.

This preparation takes much more work than it seems at first sight. We have to find the right materials to build the panels for them to be resistant in saltwater. Then we have to actually build them and we will need a big number of them since the panels are placed every 4 meters in the nets!

Where will we work?

Berlengas is a small archipelago located about 10 km off Peniche in central Portugal. Its geographic location converges both Atlantic and Mediterranean temperate climates, which, associated with the intense seasonal upwelling described for the area, is the basis of a high biological productivity area.

In fact, Berlengas archipelago surrounding is one of the richest marine ecosystems across Portuguese coastal waters. This underlies the fact for Peniche being one of Portugal´s most important fishing port, whether measured in terms of the volume of landings or the total numbers of fishers.

Peniche has a diversified fleet in which the small scale fisheries represents a significant proportion, with set gillnets, pots and demersal longlining being some of the main fishing gears.

Being such a productive area, it supports the Berlengas breeding population of Cory´s Shearwater (Calonectris borealis) as well as a large number of migratory and wintering seabirds such as the endangered Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus), Razorbill (Alca torda) and Common Murre (Uria aalge).

This spatial overlapping between fisheries and seabirds, make this area an important target for tackling seabird bycatch.

Cory’s Shearwater is one of the species incidentally caught in fishing lines © Pedro Geraldes

Working with fishers

All this work has to be done in close collaboration with fishers, and taking in consideration their own expertise. Moreover, this project not only will test the mitigation measures and its efficiency reducing bycatch, but will also analyze how practicable the measures are, from an economic point of view.

This means that we are looking for mitigation measures that reduce bycatch, but do not reduce fish catches. For that, we will have to measure different economic variables and carefully plan all the data we will be collecting on the vessels.

We look forward to starting the real work at sea, and look forward to letting you know about the results!

Seabird Task Force sets sail in Portugal
On board © Iván Gutiérrez

Shedding light on seabird bycatch

By Tomasz Linkowski & Anetta Ameryk, Polish National Marine Fisheries Research Institute NMFRI

For the first time in EU waters, we want to test net lighting in Polish gillnet fisheries to minimise seabird bycatch, thanks to a new project coordinated by BirdLife International and funded by the European Commission to specifically look at gillnet bycatch mitigation. As part of BirdLife’s existing work in the Baltic (Lithuania), testing of net panels is already being carried out, so it only made sense to examine the efficacy of an alternate measure in Poland. While it was relatively easy to come up with a solution, actually implementing it turned out to be a challenge!

At the beginning of December,  we decided together with BirdLife International that due to light conditions prevailing in the winter season in the the South Baltic, net lighting instead of the high contrast panels (see below) already tested in Lithuania should be more effective in protecting birds against their accidental bycatch in gillnets.

Images above: On the left, fish luring lights used in the net lighting measures in Poland. On the right, high contrast panel being tried out in Lithuania.

The effectiveness of lamps produced by the Korean company CENTRO had already been documented to reduce seabird bycatch in the Southern Pacific. So why would the same measures not be as effective in the Baltic? Once the decision was taken, we thought it’d be easy enough to start trying out the idea.

It turned out CENTRO lamps were not available either in Europe or at the manufacturer in Korea in time to start our project in the present season. In the end, we only managed to buy two pieces of CENTRO lights so we had to look for alternatives. We successfully found appropriate lights and after some trouble we managed to buy 350 lamps of Korean production type YML-1000 (photo below) of a very similar design and parameters with respect to the original CENTRO product.

Lights © Anetta Ameryk/Morski Instytut Rybacki

Once we had the lamps in our hands, we came across another issue. The proposed lamps had been developed for longline or angler catches of swordfish, so adapting them for our project needs was not so obvious. Luckily, we eventually got around that issue too!

Mounting the lights © Anetta Ameryk/Morski Instytut Rybacki

The lamps reached the NMFRI in mid-February and they were immediately installed on previously prepared net sets by owners of two boats with whom the NMFRI had earlier signed relevant agreements on cooperation within the project.

After negotiations with fishermen, they considered that they could try with automatic lamps which should not significantly slow down the process of fishing and would hopefully be effective in minimizing seabird bycatch.

The lamps have been installed by each fisher on two sets of nets with a length of approx. 300 m. Two identical net sets have been left with no lights as control sets. The next step will be to examine any operational issues with the lights so we can eventually deploy them in big numbers.

Now that we are ready to set sail, we are eager to share our next steps with you!