2012 recipient Zac Olsen

Zak, a 22-year old deck boss and relief skipper on the San Kaipara, won a Seabird SMART award in 2012 for his efforts on a snapper long-liner fishing out of Auckland.

His message is clear: by doing a few simple things you can make a massive reduction in the number of birds you catch. And it's a win win for the fishers as well as the birds.

"For us (Sanford Limited) as a business, it's in our interest not to catch birds - not only because they take the baits, but also because we want to be self-regulating and ensure the future of the fishing industry in New Zealand. If we can work together to minimise bird catches, at the end of the day it's going to be a lot better for everyone else too.

Zak and his team work hard to keep birds away from the lines right from the start of a set.

"If you start shooting and you have birds come in, you're going to have a problem for the whole set. But if you can keep every single one away at the start, then they'll stay away and not be a problem. I've noticed that if even one of them gets a bait, then they all seem to know its feeding time!

Depending on the time of year, Zak has a range of mitigation measures he uses.

"When the migratory birds have just arrived back in New Zealand, and just before they leave again - those are the times when they're feeding most aggressively. That's when we have to work especially hard and use all our mitigation methods.

"We keep every bit of offal and any old bait on board till the end of the day. It's only when all the gear is in, or when it's dark and there are no birds around do we chuck it over the side. If we cut bait we keep the guts on board, and deal with the sharks later too.

"Tori lines are our mainstay. At the peak times, you basically have to have someone holding the tori line and shaking it to keep the birds away. And if they start coming in from the side we put another tori line out, or just a piece of rope - something to stop them diving there.

Although it can be challenging in rough weather, the crew actively move the tori line around to keep it directly above the line.

"We have an outrigger system that keeps the tori line two metres out from the boat, so if it's windy the streamers blow back in over the top of the line. It sits 4-6 m above the water for as far out as we can, usually around 50 m behind the boat.

"We also add extra weight to the line, around 1-2 kg every 35 m of line, which is a lot more than is required but it means we get a faster sink and it's under the water as quickly as possible. We'll also dye the bait if we notice the birds are being quite aggressive or if there are a lot around the boat before we start shooting.

Zak believes there's plenty of education around the issue still needed.

"No one wants to catch birds. It's probably the worst feeling ever when you pull up a bird. I'm concerned about the recreational fishers who think it's OK to put burley in the water or cast unweighted hooks into the water when there are birds around. Everyone needs to stop birds thinking that a fishing boat means a free feed.

"I believe that we commercial guys are setting a good example of what can be done and I want to encourage every rec fisher to do the same."