Albatrosse – Death on the Fishing Hook | Polarjournal
When the bait hooks are released from the stern of the vessel, they are still visible at the sea surface for a long time. Thousands of birds see food in the bait and get caught in the hooks.

New Zealand amended its legislation in January 2020 to prevent the by-catch of seabirds by longline fisheries. This is intended to prevent the death of thousands of seabirds. Fishing vessels in national waters are gradually being equipped with “hookpods”.

The fight for food may soon become a fight for survival.

Since its scientific publication in 2017, experiments over a period of 7 years have shown that the “hookpod” is the most effective available measure to reduce the by-catch of seabirds. However, the complete elimination of by-catch during release in a commercial environment is better than expected.

Igor Debski of the New Zealand Department of Conservation said: “New Zealand is a global hotspot for seabirds and this poses particular challenges in avoiding by-catch when fishing. Hookpods are a welcome alternative to reduce by-catch of seabirds during longline deployments and they have been readily accepted by many fishermen. Initial results are promising and have shown improved effectiveness compared to existing measures, helping New Zealand to work towards zero by-catch”.

When the line is lowered into the water, the hooks are still secured and are only released at a depth of 10 meters.

Becky Ingham, CEO of Hookpod, is satisfied with the results. “A total of 15 vessels now fish commercially with hookpods in New Zealand waters and we are pleased to report that there has been ZERO by-catch of seabirds when laying lines on these vessels. These results are a real milestone in the conservation of seabirds,” she said, “Work has been underway for many years to eliminate seabird bycatch, but never before has it been so successful in commercial operations.

The hookpod only releases the hook with bait from a depth of 10 metres and is therefore no longer accessible to seabirds.

What is the problem?

As the name suggests, this fishing technique uses very long lines with bait hooks. A single vessel can use a line 130 km in length, on which up to 10-20,000 hooks can be attached, and on each of which a piece of fish or squid is hung as bait. In many of these practices, a single-use chemical light stick is placed over the hook to attract bait fish.

Every year, tuna longliners set about three billion hooks and kill an estimated 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses. 15 of 22 albatross species are currently threatened with extinction. Losses in longline fisheries represent one of the greatest threats to the majority of the listed species.

Every year, 100,000 albatrosses get entangled on the fishing hooks and drown.

When the bait hooks are released from the stern of the vessel and before they sink, they are still visible near the sea surface. At this stage, the birds are discovered foraging and try to grab the bait before it sinks. In doing so, the birds can get caught on the hook and be pulled under water. This is bad news for the birds, but also for the fishermen who would rather catch fish.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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