Crossing the ditch in search of mitigation ideas

A group of Australian trawler skippers, government and industry representatives recently undertook a whirlwind tour of South Island fishing ports to meet Kiwi inshore trawl skippers and see the mitigation ideas they have developed.


SETFIA - the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association - has received funding from the Australian National Landcare Programme to find alternatives, or ways to improve, the limited mitigation options they are currently using.

Commonwealth trawl vessels in South East Australia and the Great Australian Bight operate Seabird Management Plans (SMPs) to minimise interactions with seabirds as a part of their fisheries licence. Under these plans all vessels must manage their offal by batching or retaining it (to avoid attracting the seabirds) and use a mitigation device that protects seabirds from bumping into trawl cables.

Currently, the only mitigation device available to all trawl vessels in the fishery is the "pinky", a buoy that is towed in the danger zone, just in front of where the trawl cables enter the water.

While pinkies have been shown to be effective at reducing seabird interactions, they can be operationally difficult to use on some vessels for a number of reasons. They are prone to tangle on the trawl cables, and because of the way some vessels are set up crew need to lean over the gunwale to reach the trawl cables, which is dangerous. This problem is made worse if the net is at risk of becoming snagged because, in this situation, it has to be immediately and rapidly hauled in to reduce risk of damaging it. This raises real safety concerns for crew, especially at night and in bad weather (SETFIA, 2014). 

The trip to NZ allowed the group to meet with numerous skippers, industry and government representatives as well as net makers and mitigation gear distributors.

Larger vessels in the Kiwi trawl fleets are at the forefront of managing fishing interactions with seabirds with mitigation development, offal management and operational Vessel Management Plans that include specific procedures to mitigate risk to seabirds.  Richard Wells, seabird and fisheries specialist from Nelson, who spearheaded much of this work chaperoned the group.  

As part of the trip, the group participated in a Southern Seabird Solutions Trust Seabird Smart Fishing workshop which covers seabird biology, interactions, mitigation devices and handling techniques.

Cam Speedy, wildlife biologist with Southern Seabirds, said “participants were particularly interested in the importance of seabirds in the formation of New Zealand soils, as well as the diversity and number of seabirds in New Zealand and how this impacted on our fishing operations”.  

Janice Molloy, Convenor of Southern Seabird Solutions Trust, said “it was fantastic to have the Aussies over here.  Working internationally is essential to managing risks to seabirds from fishing – not just because the birds fly all over the world, but because it means we all build on each other’s knowledge and experience - we can tweak existing gear, pick up new ideas, and collaborate on new mitigation options”.

As a result of the trip, the Australian contingent had decided on some specific mitigation ideas to trial in their own fishery.  Catch up with what the group did on SETFIA's Twitter feed or SETFIA website.