Innovation to keep albatrosses off tuna hooks

The Government is investing in a sea trial of a new bait setting device that could help to eliminate seabird captures during the tuna longline setting process.

Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage and Minister of Fisheries Stuart Nash today announced the $350,000 project to test the device which sets baited hooks underwater, out of the sight and diving depth of seabirds.

“New Zealand is home to more species of seabird than any other country with more albatross, petrel, shag and penguin species breeding here than anywhere else in the world. Many seabirds are at risk of bycatch in fisheries including the Critically Endangered Antipodean albatross and the near threatened Southern Buller’s albatross,” says Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.

“We need to see fisheries significantly reduce the thousands of seabirds which are killed as bycatch each year and their impact on other marine life globally. There is huge scope for New Zealand fisheries to improve their performance,” she says.

“This device could be a game changer, not only in New Zealand, but in time, in international fisheries as well,” says Stuart Nash.

Twenty years ago, New Zealand tuna fisherman, Dave Kellian, carried out a simple experiment on his boat and worked out that if baited hooks were released at ten metres, seabirds would be safe from being hooked. He used this knowledge to come up with the original prototype device that set baited hooks underwater.

“Often the best solutions are those developed by people involved in the industry. I’m very pleased we can help get this device through its final testing phase,” says Stuart Nash.

The device will be installed on a Nelson-based fishing vessel owned by Altair Fishing and put through its paces for 6 weeks during normal fishing.  A specially trained engineer will be on the vessel for the whole trial.

This trial is a collaborative effort and is being funded by the Department of Conservation, Fisheries New Zealand, Fisheries Inshore New Zealand and the Auckland Zoo Charitable Trust through the Southern Seabird Solutions Trust.

“This project is an excellent example of industry and conservation agencies collaborating to achieve better results for our unique seabirds,” conclude the Ministers.