Lithuania

Lithuania

The Tale of the Windy Baltic (The Story of our 2016/17 Season)


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This winter, with a full season under our belts, we were better prepared than ever to get started. Our initial trips were perfectly timed, just as birds arrived on the wintering grounds. Everything was going our way! However, almost immediately, the weather took a turn for the worse. High winds have battered the Lithuanian coast, and prevented fishermen (and us!) from getting to sea. In fact, some of the small boat owners haven’t been to sea for at least 2 and a half months. Even when the wind has let up for a brief 24 hour window, this has not provided fishermen with enough time to deploy and haul the gear. More so in fishing than in many other jobs, the weather is the real master of your destiny!

In spite of this, we have been able to get out on some trips with the fishermen. As some of the larger vessels are able to operate in the stronger winds, we conducted net panel trials on these boats. Small numbers of Velvet Scoters and Red-throated Divers were caught in both control and modified nets. Perhaps more notably, this year we have been able to collect some additional bycatch data from the Smelt fishery, which uses a much smaller mesh size. In this fishery, we recorded larger numbers of birds, including Red-throated Divers, Velvet and Common Scoters.

While waiting for the weather to improve, we have been able to conduct bird counts in the key wintering areas for Velvet Scoter. In mid-November, the total counted was around 11,000 birds (an amazing spectacle!), largely distributed in waters of 7-15 m depth. Such information on bird distribution helps us to target key areas for fieldwork.

The other bit of bad weather work we’ve been able to do is order fishing lights from China! While these are normally used to attract fish in longline fisheries, we are hoping to conduct a preliminary trial of them in Lithuania (on a smaller scale than the work in Poland) to see if they might have a role in reducing seabird bycatch here. Watch this space!

There are several months of potential data collection ahead, both in winter and in spring as several species pass through the Baltic on migration. Please cross your fingers for improved weather conditions so that we can get some conclusive answers on seabird bycatch mitigation!

Lithuania

Analyse this…


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As we embark on our second season of data collection in Lithuania, we highlight what we learned from analysing our first season’s data.

While raw figures might make interesting reading, when it comes to thinking about bycatch, we need to analyse our data to draw useful conclusions about how effective our net panels might be in reducing seabird mortality in gillnet fisheries.

One of the difficulties with almost all bycatch data, irrespective of fishery or accidentally captured species, is that it is usually a rare, sporadic event – this means that our data set contains lots of zeros, when there was no bycatch at all. Most means of analysis don’t cope particularly well with this – but thankfully, there are ways!

Without getting into the details (we will aim to publish our results in full once we have completed our next field season), the mean number of birds caught per set was about a third lower in our experimental sets with net panels (mean of 0.37 birds/set) than control sets (0.54/set). While this is an encouraging result, this difference was not statistically significant. Given this outcome, we are undertaking further trials this winter in Lithuania, continuing to conduct paired trials to bottom-out whether these net panels might have utility in reducing seabird bycatch in the Baltic. The signs are encouraging, but more work is required!

One interesting (and statistically significant!) result is that total fish catch was actually higher in the nets carrying panels compared to standard gillnets (a graph below if you’re interested!). This is an important result, as technical mitigation is unlikely to be popular with fishermen if it negatively affects catch. We’ll continue to keep a close eye on how net panels affect target catch…

totalcatch Total fish catch in control and experimental nets. Horizontal lines are the median, boxes the interquartile range, error bars the 95% CI, and dots are final outliers

Thanks to Alex Bond of RSPB for carrying out the analysis!

Lithuania

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

Early results from our mitigation trials in Lithuania


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The winter has brought the usual mix of seabirds to coastal Lithuania – we recently counted more than 8,000 waterbirds in our winter census. Most of these were threatened Velvet Scoters, with around 6,000 counted in sandy-bottomed sea areas off the beautiful Curonian Spit. Sadly, not all these ducks will see the Spring. We have already recorded Velvet Scoters, Red-throated Divers, Long-tailed Ducks, and Common Scoters as bycatch in the cod fishery. Since late October, we have collected 80 drowned birds from the 10 fishermen we are working with. (more…)

Lithuania

Preparing for the Bird Wintering Season


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Winter is approaching, and lots of sea ducks that have bred further north will gather in the Lithuanian Baltic Sea. Before the colder period sets in, many Baltic Sea gillnet fishermen are focussed on catching plaice – when colder weather arrives, fishermen will switch to catching cod as they come closer to shore, and it is in this fishery that wintering birds are at risk of bycatch. (more…)

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International workshop on Marine Important Bird Areas in the Mediterranean


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An international workshop on Marine Important Bird Areas in Malta and the Mediterranean will be held between the 23rd – 25th November 2015 by the LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project and BirdLife International. The workshop will be a key opportunity to gather knowledge and experience on protecting seabirds across national boundaries and international waters of the Mediterranean as well as set the way forward for international collaborations in protecting our common seabird heritage. (more…)

Lithuania

Lessons on gillnet bycatch: the US case study


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Gillnet fisheries are not uniform in nature across the globe – different species are targeted via different mesh sizes, fishing techniques and positioning of the net in the water column.
Gillnet bycatch is also not a problem restricted to a single country or even sea basin – there are recorded instances all over the world. What we hope, however, is that a suite of mitigation measures can be devised to reduce bird bycatch wherever gillnet fishing occurs. The work of the Seabird Task Force in Lithuania is our first step on this path.

(more…)