Prove it works

Prove it works

Underwater capsule being tested in Australia. Photo: Graham Robertson

"You've got to demonstrate quantitatively that it doesn't adversely affect fishing."

Graham Robertson, Australian Antarctic Division, Australia.

Before they will consider adopting your idea, fishermen and fleets will want to know how it will affect their business.

This means proving that your mitigation technique or device reduces seabird deaths or injuries in their fishery. It also means proving or demonstrating its effect on their fishing operations, including catch rates of target and non-target species.

As well as proving your device to fishermen, you may also need to persuade fisheries managers that your technique or device meets the mitigation standards they require in their fisheries.

Governments and other fisheries legislators want to know that a mitigation system is going to work before they make or change a law that requires fishermen to use it, or lets them use it in place of another proven mitigation device. So they want rock-solid scientific proof that what you have is going to address the problem area they are concerned about.

To prove to both fishermen and governments that your device works, you will need to organise and run properly constructed scientific experiments.

The best proof is having the device or technique trialled at sea across the range of conditions it will be used in. These trials must scientifically prove how effective the device or technology is in field situations and show any effects on fish catch.

Organise scientific experiments

"You have to test gear in the presence of lots of birds. And you may have to kill birds to test whether it works or doesn't."

Barry Baker, Convenor, ACAP Seabird Bycatch Working Group.

To prove your idea is effective in reducing seabird injuries or deaths in a fishery, you need to carry out robust scientific experiments under the necessary fishing conditions.

This means involving the right science expertise, getting the necessary government permissions, finding a vessel(s) willing to accept your experiment on board during fishing trip(s) and finding funding to pay for all this.

How do I design good experiments?

"You need to disentangle the effects experimentally of the different components, otherwise you have to recommend the entire package." - Graham Robertson, Australian Antarctic Division, Australia.

Experiments need to be properly designed and peer-reviewed by other scientists. They also need to involve the combination of fishery, vessel type, fishing gear and deck operations, environmental conditions, and seabird interactions you are trying to mitigate.

Where possible, disentangle the effects of the mitigation technique or device you are testing from the effects of any other mitigation being used (e.g. offal management, streamer lines). If you don't do this, you will only be able to recommend the actual combination of things used in your tests.

Make sure you design your experiments with the help of both an experimental biologist and a seabird ecologist. The experimental biologist will make sure the statistical elements of the experiment's design are sound and the seabird ecologist will make sure the experiment properly accounts for variables in bird behaviour (particularly due to feeding patterns and/or times of year).

You will also need to show what effect, if any, the mitigation device or techniques has on fish catches. Fishermen want to know whether it affects their target species catch rates, and what effect it has on the mix of bycatch species associated with this.

So you need to involve fishermen in helping design your experiments - to make sure they cover an appropriate range of fishing conditions. Remember that to many fishermen, catch rates will be most critical at times when fishing is poor.

The best proof is having the device or technique trialled at sea across the range of conditions it will be used in. These trials must scientifically prove how effective the device or technology is in field situations and show any effects on fish catch.

"When the fish are biting, anything can catch them. When they're not biting, you're fishing at the margins - so a slight change in fishing efficiency can have a major impact in how a fleet with view a mitigation measure."

Ed Melvin, Washington Sea Grant.

Do I need permission to do experiments?

To test whether your idea is better than existing mitigation in a fishery, you will have to compare how many birds it kills or injures against how many birds the existing mitigation kills or injures.

And since this will probably be done within the EEZ of a country, you may need that government's permission in order to do the experiment. In getting this permission, you may have to satisfy them that the experiment will stop the moment enough data has been gathered to make the experiment statistically sound (so keeping the number of birds killed to the absolute minimum).

You may also need to satisfy the fishing fleet involved that the number of birds killed during the experiment will not be used against them in any way.

How can I resource experiments?

Various governments, regional fisheries management organisations, fishing fleets and environmental groups around the world are looking for effective seabird mitigation. Some of these people may be potentially interested in proving the effectiveness of your idea.

Sometimes governments are actively seeking solutions and have scientists or science funding available.

Sometimes a fleet is actively looking for a solution to a problem and has funding or scientists available.

Sometimes environmental organisations are actively looking for a solution to a problem and have funding or scientists available.

Where you have persuaded someone to fund your project, you should supply them with regular updates. They will want to know what you are spending their money on and what progress you are making. If you are having problems or striking hurdles, tell them.