Author: Marguerite Tarzia


An atypical winter

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Following our initial testing of the high-contrast panels last May, we were able to start work on our gillnet mitigation measure trials in earnest in the early autumn.

In October, we attached the panels to the nets of one the collaborating fishing boats. However, due to the abnormally high temperatures in Portugal and lack of rain, the water was extremely clear. The fishermen were therefore unable to use the fishing nets, as they rely on turbid water conditions to make the nets invisible to their target catch – seabass. So, we actually found ourselves in the unusual situation of waiting for weather conditions to take a turn for the worse! And then we waited some more….and some more. Finally, at the end of November, the conditions were suitable to trial our modified gear.

It really is a case of ‘good things come to those who wait’ – the first trips went well and there were no major differences in fish catches between the control and panel nets – this is a very good sign and it is in line with the trials in Lithuania. No seabird bycatch was recorded on these first trials.


So far, so good! However, in the early days of January, the weather continued to worsen, and the sea became very rough. Our experimental nets became entangled on the rocky seafloor, resulting in serious damage to the gear. It was disappointing after all the effort and difficulties we encountered, but the skipper of the boat remains open to trying alternative mitigation measures to tackle the problem of seabird bycatch. On a more positive note, we also started collaborating with another boat at the same time and we had still yet to trial the gillnets during the season due to the unfavorable conditions already mentioned.

The team attaching panels to nets. In one set, with a total of 40 nets, 122 high-contrast panels were fixed onto 20 gillnets. The panels were placed in the centre of the net, every 6 metres, and fixed with nylon rope, more resistant than what has been used before. This solved the problem of panel attachment that we faced in the pilot trips last year.

The cooperation of fishermen is essential for reliable results and for future adoption of mitigation measures. Fortunately, the fishing crew was happy to help and accepted the challenge of attaching the panels with us.

After the modified gear went into the water, we noticed again that some panels were lost, but not to the extent recorded in the severe weather. It’s important to continue testing different materials and to find which works best in the water – while the materials we are using were effective in the calmer waters of the Baltic Sea, they might not be so appropriate for the open and wild Atlantic. We are crossing our fingers for the right weather conditions, so we can continue this work along with the fisherman. Meanwhile, we continue to monitor seabird bycatch in the area, to better understand its patterns of occurrence.


Hauling the nets with panels

This is the first time we are trialing such innovative measures in Portugal and we hope the results will contribute to the evolution of gillnet bycatch mitigation, and represent a major step forward for seabird conservation.

By Iván Gutiérrez and Elisabete Silva, SPEA Bycatch Observers.


Feeding back to fishermen and gearing up for another field season!

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To be effective, our seabird bycatch teams all over the world need to be in regular contact with fishery stakeholders. Of course, spending time on boats and in port means we frequently speak to fishermen, but it’s important to take the opportunity to step back and talk about some of the big issues with fishermen, scientists and national fisheries departments. The Seabird Task Force in Lithuania did just that this past summer, by holding a workshop to present our preliminary project results on gillnet bycatch mitigation and plan the next steps for our field work – which is beginning again as we write!

At the workshop, the Task Force team presented the results of our winter 2015/16 mitigation trials. A total of 78 fishing trips were conducted to compare the levels of bycatch in standard nets with our experimental nets, carrying black and white ‘net panels’.  Both fishermen and our observers collected data on fish and bird catch to help us test whether the panels could reduce bird bycatch while maintaining the catch of target fish.

During this field season, participating fishermen caught 89 birds, with the most common species being the Velvet Scoter. Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated Diver and Common Scoter. As is often the case with seabird bycatch, it was highly variable day to day – many days could pass with no birds caught; on one day, a single trip caught 36 birds and just 9 kg of fish- demonstrating the severity of bird bycatch and the need to find solutions!

Our high contrast panels have shown promising preliminary results- while we need to carry out more trips to be able to have stronger statistical evidence to back up our findings- there are indications that nets carrying panels catch fewer birds. The raw data also indicate that most birds where caught in water depth of 10 meters. Very interestingly, the fish catch in the nets with high contrast panel increased compared to the normal nets. We hope to post more details of our analysis on this blog shortly! These results were well received during the workshop by both fishermen and government representatives.

One of the participating fisherman also gave a presentation and he shared his own positive experience of using the panels, collaborating with LOD and his hopes for working towards a reduction in seabird bycatch. In the last session of the day, the Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Fisheries) provided a presentation on their vision for bycatch reduction and opportunities for funding- providing the framework for a very useful discussion on the next steps for this work. The team outlined that in the next field season we will keep testing the same panels more widely and will examine the utility of new methods, such as underwater net lights. As this work is now underway, look out for another blog soon about what we’ve been up to this winter!

Lithuania, Spain

Seabird Task Force in Europe established

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The European Seabird Task Force is BirdLife’s new team of seabird bycatch experts. We are working with fishermen across Europe to tackle seabird bycatch.

The establishment of the Seabird Task Force means that BirdLife International and our Partners can actively contribute to the understanding of seabird bycatch within Europe and begin to develop and adapt solutions to this problem with fishermen across the region. The Seabird Task Force is the European incarnation of the successful ‘Albatross Task Force’, a team which has been working collaboratively with fishermen to tackle seabird bycatch in southern Africa and South America. Around the world, our approach is simple and all about collaboration- we work with local fishermen to understand the seabird bycatch problem and develop solutions together. This approach builds mutual respect between the team and the fishermen, and allows an effective collaboration to take place to solve a shared environmental and economic problem. (more…)