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

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