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!

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!