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Seabird safety prioritised by Australian fleet

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New measures that aim to help reduce the bycatch of seabirds have been introduced by the fishing industry in Southern Australia.

The South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) and the Great Australian Bight Industry Association (GABIA) launched the new seabird mitigation arrangements with the start of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) last week.

Following an industry-led initiative, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) is implementing new and stronger arrangements to protect seabirds from interactions with fishing boats. All commercial trawl fishing vessels in the SESSF must use either sprayers, bird bafflers, or pinkies (large buoys that are placed in front of where trawl warps enter the water). If pinkies are used, fishers must not dispose of any offal while fishing.

Bird bafflers have proven to be the go-to device by the southern trawl fleet, with the majority of operators investing in and installing these devices. Bafflers are designed to prevent seabirds from entering the ‘danger zone’ where trawl warps enter the water. They are made from long curtains of rope and pieces of plastic piping, which act as a fence and stop seabirds from coming near these warps.

Different to bafflers but also an effective mitigation tool, seabird sprayers create a curtain of water around the area where the warps enter the water. Sprayers are more expensive than bafflers.

Christian Pyke, Executive Officer of GABIA, said that: “The southern Australian trawl fleet is the first small vessel fleet in the world to mandate the use of proven devices on all vessels and minimise risks associated with trawling and seabirds. Australia is leading the world in minimising risks between seabirds and trawl vessels.”

Simon Boag, Executive Officer of SETFIA, explained that: “All active trawl vessels have taken action to implement the new seabird arrangements with one boat opting for sprayers and 27 boats opting for bafflers.

“This is an extremely encouraging outcome given that during trials bafflers reduced heavy interactions by 96 per cent and sprayers by 92 per cent compared to bare warps.

“We would like to thank Fishwell Consulting and AFMA’s By-catch Team for their work on this project”.

AFMA’s acting Executive Manager Fisheries, Beth Gibson, said that AFMA’s Bycatch and Discards and Trawl sections worked closely with industry leaders SETFIA and GABIA to create the new seabird mitigation devices.

She said: “AFMA recognises the efforts from industry in raising and designing the new arrangements for managing interactions with seabirds in the SESSF.

“Hearing first-hand from fishers out there on the sea helped inform our decision making throughout the process, particularly in ensuring that the devices are safe for both the fishers and the birds.

“As part of the new arrangements, bafflers and sprayers must meet specifications and receive approval before use. Any vessel seeking to use the third option of pinkies with no offal discharge while fishing must prove they can do this with an AFMA observer on board. If this requirement can’t be met they will be required to use bafflers.”

(Image of Southern Buller's Albatross copyright Tamar Wells).