Handling a seabird with a long reach

Albatross, gannets and cormorants are big birds and can be difficult to hold. Mike from Blue Water Charters posing with an albatross prior to releasing it. Image: Blue Water Charters.

Any fishing line left on a seabird can get tangled at its nesting site. This photo was sent in by Sue and Rod Neureuter from the Noises in the Hauraki Gulf.

Make sure you have the gear you need to release a seabird with your fishing gear. A clean towel, gloves, sunnies, pliers and snips that can cut whatever line you use. A set of small bolt cutters are useful too because they make getting a hook out much quicker.

Seabirds with long necks can be hard to handle.


All seabirds can turn their heads 180 degrees.  Any seabird with a long neck, like a shag or gannet, can reach even further - sometimes giving the appearance they can turn 360 degrees - spooky!  This can make them difficult to handle.

Shags, gannets and gulls also have a nasty habit of striking towards your face - so keep your sunglasses on if you need to handle one.  Its also useful to wear a pair of gloves if you have some close.

Carefully reel the seabird in and bring it out of the water with a landing net. Cover it with a towel to calm it down. Hold it firmly around the body with the feet tucked under so it can't scratch away. Hold the head carefully but firmly around the base of the skull with the beak pointing away from you. Get someone else to cut off the hook and fishing line.  If you are by yourself, hold the bird under your arm or pushed up against the side of your deck so you have one hand free to remove tackle.

Either squash the barb, or cut the fishing hook in half with small bolt cutters and back the hook out.  Untangle any fishing line on the seabird as this will get caught up at its nesting site and it will die.  If the bird has swallowed the hook, cut the fishing line as close to the beak as possible and release it.

Whether ever possible, release a seabird at water level.  Gannets will often sit on the water preening and gathering their wits before heading off again.

Download our safe seabird release poster here.

Check out Fishing Seabird Smart with the Big Angry Fish video.