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 from: Seabird 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!
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.
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.
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!