Seabirds Avoid Fate as Bycatch

December 29th, 2012 BY Hilary Feldman | No Comments

Our local skating rink uses large orange traffic cones for novice skaters. With a handhold cut into the top, they are just the right height for young children – and the added stability is encouraging on that slippery ice. It turns out that there are many other non-traffic uses for the familiar orange shapes. Off the coast of Argentina, they are helping prevent bird entanglement in fishing equipment.

The coastal oceans around Argentina feature upwelling zones, creating regions rich in nutrients and home to abundant sealife. Mammals and seabirds feed in these areas – and commercial fisheries cast their gear here. As fishing boats process their catches, unwanted material is discarded, attracting seabirds. These birds dive around the back of the vessels, getting hit by cables and potentially killed or drowned.

Diego González Zevallos, an Argentinean marine biologist and inventor, came up with an ingenious way to warn off seabirds. The “Traffic Cone”, a one-metre-long floating device, attaches to fishing cables. The size and colour ensure high visibility, so that birds can readily avoid them. Even better, it seems to have little effect on fishing efficiency, so that crew members have minimal objections. Initial use with a commercial trawler reduced seabird collisions with cables by nearly 90%.

Various factors have contributed to the decline of many seabird populations. Longline fisheries pose a threat through collision and entanglement. The black-browed albatross is endangered in the South Atlantic. Their large size allows them to fly long distances to feed. About 15% of the Falkland population’s diet comes from fishery waste – leading to many interactions with vessels and gear. Kelp gulls are also common accidental victims.

There are some modifications that can reduce seabird bycatch, including scaring tactics, weighted hooks, control of waste discharge, night fishing, and making baits less visible. In a recent competition to promote new solutions, the “Traffic Cone” was a runner-up. Other innovative devices proposed in the same Smart Gear competition, included “The Eliminator” to target haddock, reflectors to warn off porpoises, and nested cylinders to catch red snappers and other fish.

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