Bait setting capsule

Bait setting capsule

In the mid-1990s, New Zealand tuna fisherman Dave Kellian decided he could eliminate the seabird issue in his fishery if he set baits 10 metres or more below the surface. He came to this conclusion after an incident in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty.

An experiment

Dave happened to be tuna fishing at a time when a game fishing contest was being held. He didn't want to annoy the anglers by setting commercial longlines in the middle of the contest area, so he decided to change tactics and hand-line for yellowfin tuna instead.

To do this, he needed to attract tuna to his vessel. So he caught lots of pilchards, using his bait net, and started feeding these overboard, to attract any tuna in the area.

Unfortunately, this activity attracted seabirds. Lots of them. "I must have brought every flesh-footed shearwater in the Bay of Plenty around my boat," Dave says. With his vessel mobbed by seabirds, none of the pilchards Dave put in the water ever reached the depths where tuna were - the birds got them before they had sunk that far.

So Dave and his crew made a 'bag' out of a raincoat by tying up its arms and waist. They put rocks in to weight it and filled it with pilchards. Then they lowered this over the side, on the end of a rope. When they thought it was out of range of the birds, they jerked the rope; this tore open the coat's Velcro fastener and released the pilchards into the water.

After some trials, they discovered the birds around their vessel would not dive for the pilchards if they were released 10 metres or more below the surface. With this knowledge, Dave and his crew began releasing bag after bag of pilchards into the water below 10 metres. This eventually attracted the tuna to his vessel and they got into the business of fishing again.

As a result of this 'experiment', Dave began developing his idea for a device that would take a surface longline bait down to a depth of 10 metres and then release it.

Refining a solution

Dave started off with a pulley system attached to a paravane that was towed behind the vessel. He spent two weeks, between his fishing trips, working with engineer friend Mike Smith to try and get this to work. They quickly found this concept had some major problems, and thought a better way would be to send something down below the vessel that released the bait and then returned to the surface.

Around this time, the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) began a seabird mitigation research programme that was funded by fishing industry levies.

Janice Molloy, now convenor of Southern Seabird Solutions Trust, managed the fund at the time. She held a workshop for fishermen and industry representatives to brainstorm ideas for demersal and pelagic longline mitigation. They all decided that underwater setting was a priority for research.

So DOC put out a public call for tenders to develop an underwater setting device for longline fisheries. Two tenders were received - one from Dave Kellian and Mike Smith for the setting capsule and one from Paul Barnes and Kim Walshe for the underwater setting chute.

After discussions with fishermen who had attended the previous workshop, DOC decided to fund the development of both concepts. This funding and development continued over the next three years.

Funds were granted and used to pay for Mike's firm (MS Engineering) and an electronics company (System Control) to develop a prototype. Dave organised some vessels and did initial trials with the prototype in 1997/98.

Trials were also carried out on a vessel DOC had chartered to trial both the capsule and the underwater setting chute on.

Following these trials, the capsule and chute were demonstrated to fishermen at three demonstration days.

By this time, the progress being made with both the capsule and the chute attracted interest from Nigel Brothers of the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service in Australia.

Nigel and Janice had put together a funding proposal to Australia's Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) - a government/industry funded body. They were granted $90,000 to further develop and trial both devices. Some of this work was done in New Zealand and some in Australia.

FRDC were interested in funding these devices because of seabird bycatch issues in Australia's east coast tuna and billfish fishery. This fishery extended from the tropical waters of cape York Peninsula to the temperate waters of Tasmania.

Nigel coordinated trials of both devices off Tasmania. After these, the Australian's put aside the capsule idea and concentrated instead on the underwater setting chute.

While Australia concentrated on developing the setting chute further, New Zealand continued to invest in the setting capsule. DOC funded Dave and Mike get their device to the point where it could be trialled further.

By now, around NZ$140,000 had been spent on engineering and electronics design and development, plus a large amount of Dave's time (which was not charged for).

On trial

The first trials involved two weeks on the Jay Patricia - a vessel owned by Moana Pacific Fisheries. The capsule was then fitted on a large pelagic longliner - the Daniel Solander - for one of its fishing trips. In readiness for these trials, Kim from MS Engineering gave his time in machining new tracks for the capsule and Charles Hufflett of Solander Seafood paid for the capsule to be fitted to the vessel (and, of course, allowed these trials to go ahead on it).

Dave went to sea on the Daniel Solander and used the vessel's workshop to further refine his capsule. From these trials, he learned that the system needed to be driven by hydraulics rather than electrics, and needed a more reliable 'capture' system to return the capsule to the vessel. Dave then spent nearly $9,000 of his own money, and much time, making these modifications.

In 2003, Dave persuaded fellow fisherman Darren Coulston to let him trial the new hydraulic model on Darren's vessel Gold Country, between fishing trips. The device worked, but the capture system was still not 100% reliable.

Dave made up a new track and capture mechanism and these went with a new version of the device to Australia in 2003. Australian fisherman Tony Foster had met Dave at the 2002 International Fisher's Forum in Hawaii and could see the potential of this device for his fishery.

The trip was paid for by DOC and ecotourism operator Oceanwings, and Tony offered his vessel for trials. They tried it on his vessel, but still had problems with the return capture mechanism. Tony and fellow fisherman Joe Rowley persevered with this, and involved engineers Peter and Phil Ashworth of Amero Engineering in Mooloolaba. However, there was no money to develop it, so Peter and Phil didn't take things too much further.

Then seabird scientist and mitigation researcher Graham Robertson entered the picture.

Graham met Dave at a Southern Seabird Solutions meeting in Nelson, New Zealand in 2005. He had also heard about the capsule from Tony Foster in Australia. Graham had a background in seabird behaviour and mitigation research. His work spanned fisheries in the Southern Atlantic, Alaska, South Africa, and the southern Pacific.

Graham had long seen the need for a global solution to the issue around surface longline fisheries and seabirds. He recalls thinking at the time he met Dave that the capsule had potential.

Some time later, Graham was approached by a major US environmental fund - the Packard Foundation. They wanted to fund seabird conservation in the Pacific region, and Graham mentioned the idea of Dave's capsule to them. Packard Foundation asked for a formal funding application. Graham applied, and was granted US$100,000 to develop the capsule further. Graham also approached and got significant funds from the International Association of Antarctic Tourism Operators (IAATO).

During the months and years that followed, Graham provided Packard and IAATO with regular updates and secured further funding to progress the project. Combined funding from both sources totaled around half a million dollars.

The money from these international funders has been used to pay Amero Engineering and charter fishing vessels. While Graham's time in the project has been paid for by the Australian government (as he is employed by the Australian Antarctic Division).

In developing the capsule further, Amero Engineering completely redesigned the return mechanism. Graham found things progressed quickest when he and the engineers he put in concerted efforts - a solid month spent working together in early 2009 had them sort out the last major issues. That month's efforts cost around $35,000 in engineering time and another $35,000 to charter a fishing vessel for the whole month.

In August 2009, they took the capsule out on an actual fishing trip - its first time fishing. It performed perfectly - setting 6200 baited hooks, which caught 5.5 tonnes of fish. The vessel's skipper and crew were happy.

Winning concept

In September 2009, the capsule won the WWF Smart gear competition and collected US$30,000 in prize money. This went to Amero Engineering.

The capsule was returning properly. However, it was only reaching 7 metres with a 7-second return time, rather than the magic 10-metre depth. The design is being refined to speed up the system to get it down deeper.

Other refinements planned include adding GPS-logging features. This will mean authorities can check that the device is being used on a vessel, and where and at what depth it set each bait.

Graham plans to trial the Kellian capsule on the Uruguayan government's fisheries research vessel in 2010.

Next steps include arranging scientific experiments to demonstrate the capsule's effectiveness as a seabird mitigation device.


Bull, L.S. 2007. A review of methodologies for mitigating incidental catch of seabirds in New Zealand fisheries. DOC Research & Development series 263: p 17. Retrieved

Brothers, N.; Cooper, J.; L√łkkeborg, S. 1999. The incidental catch of seabirds by longline fisheries: worldwide review and technical guidelines for mitigation.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Fisheries Circular No.937. Retrieved from:

Gilman, E. 2004. References on Seabird Bycatch in Longline Fisheries.
Blue Ocean Institute, Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. Retrieved

Seabird bycatch mititation: minimum standards for pelagic longline fishing and priorities for further research. Prepared by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP). 2007. Retrieved from: ACAP website.