Dyed bait

This description relies upon:
Birdlife International. 2014. Bycatch Mitigation Fact-sheet 10 (September 2014), Pelagic Longline: blue dyed bait (squid).
In the 1970s, fishermen experimented with dyed bait as a means of improving their target fish catch. More recently, experiments have been directed towards using blue-dyed bait to reduce seabird bycatch in pelagic longline fisheries. In theory, dyeing bait blue reduces the contrast between the bait and the surrounding seawater making it more difficult for foraging seabirds to detect. Alternative theories suggest that seabirds are simply less interested in blue-dyed bait compared with undyed controls.
Bait Type
The type of bait used, squid or fish, can affect the up-take of dye and the birds' response. Squid take on the colouring far more effectively than fish. Fish easily lose dyed scales and there is considerable contrast between the dorsal and ventral surfaces of fish. Additionally, once thawed fish are more easily lost from hooks.
Effectiveness at reducing seabird bycatch
The effectiveness of blue-dyed bait at reducing seabird bycatch has varied considerably between different trials. Some trials have shown reductions in contacts between albatrosses and bait of over 90%, outperforming other mitigation measures (Boggs, 2001; Kiyota et al., 2007) while others indicate that blue-dyed bait used alone was less effective than other mitigation measures under investigation, including side-setting and setting chutes (Gilman et al., 2003). Cocking et al. (2008) highlight the importance of bait type, blue-dyed fish was far less effective than squid at reducing seabird attack. Blue-dyed squid shows promise as an effective mitigation measure whereas blue-dyed fish appears less promising. Several factors have been identified that could influence the effectiveness of blue-dyed bait;
- Fishermen perceive that several environmental factors (weather, light, sea colour) and operational factors (how bait is deployed) influence the behaviour of seabirds towards dyed bait.
- Competition and seasonal food requirements of foraging birds are likely to influence their response to blue-dyed bait.
- In the long-term, birds may become habituated to blue-dyed bait.
Generally, there appears to be potential to reduce seabird mortality but long-term trials are needed to understand the complex relationships between seabird behaviour, bait colour, environment and operational factors.
Target catch rates
The first experiments with dyed bait were designed to improve the catch of target fish species. It is unclear whether this is due to the reduction in bait loss to foraging seabirds or due to bait being more attractive to fish in the water column. Further trials are needed in order to quantify these subtle differences in catch.
Best practice recommendation
The dyeing process requires bait to be fully thawed before they can take up sufficient dye. Food colouring, such as Virginia Dare FD C Blue No. 1 or E133, is commonly used. In Brazil, a company that specialises in food colouring, Mix Industria, has developed a dye specifically to colour fishing bait. Depending on the concentration of the dye and the desired colour, bait is soaked from 20 minutes to four hours. Comparison with a colour card determines when the desired colour has been achieved. Bait is often refrozen after dyeing and used in a semi-frozen state to improve bait retention on hooks.
Note: Brilliant Blue FCF is the standardized colour specified by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) for use when dyeing squid bait.
Combinations of measures
At present, the practical issues of dyeing bait at-sea and the inconsistent results of experimental trials suggest that blue-dyed bait is not an appropriate primary mitigation measure. Blue-dyed bait has greater potential when limited to squid bait and used in combination with other mitigation measures including:
- Streamer lines
- Side-setting
- Night-setting
There is no evidence that dyeing bait a dark blue colour reduces sea turtle interaction rates with fishing gear. Laboratory experiments with loggerheads suggest that each individual has its own consistent colour preferences [8 in 3]. Colour preferences demonstrated in a laboratory setting, i.e., avoidance of blue-dyed bait by loggerheads and Kemp's ridley turtles, were not expressed in field trials [9 in 3]. Experimental fishing in the Pacific also failed to find any significant effect of dyed bait on turtle interaction rates [10 in 3].
Ease of Deployment and Safety
Several factors can make this measure inconvenient for fishermen.
• Bait needs to be fully thawed before it will take up sufficient dye. Thawed bait, particularly fish, is less likely to remain on the hook and thawing requires considerable preparation time.
• Dyeing bait at-sea can be a messy business: hands, clothes and the boat become coated in blue dye.
• Additionally, the use of dyed of bait at-sea is very difficult to enforce.
Many of these issues would be resolved if pre-dyed bait were commercially available. Until such time, blue-dyed bait is unlikely to be widely used by fishermen.
Cost Information
In Hawaii, it is estimated that it costs US$14 to dye each longline set, which equates to about US$8 per 1,000 hooks.
The current practice of dyeing bait on board vessels at sea requires observer presence or video surveillance to monitor implementation. Assessment of implementation in the absence of on-board observers or video surveillance requires baits be dyed on land and monitored through port inspection of all bait on vessels prior to departure on fishing trips.
Further Research
More trials are needed to evaluate the effects of blue-dyed squid on seabird bycatch and target fish catch. Fishermen are encouraged to voluntarily use dyed squid bait if they consider this will improve their catch. Long-term studies are underway in Brazil - preliminary results are promising and suggest reduced seabird bycatch with no effect on fish catch. Similar trials are required elsewhere to determine the effectiveness of blue-dyed squid in preventing bycatch in other seabird assemblages.


  1. Birdlife International. 2014. Bycatch Mitigation Fact-sheet 10 (September 2014), Pelagic Longline: blue dyed bait (squid).
  2. . Boggs, C.H. 2001. Deterring albatrosses from contacting baits during swordfish longline sets. In: Seabird Bycatch: trends, roadblocks and Solutions. (Eds. E. Melvin and J. Parish). University of Alaska Sea Grant, Anchorage, USA. pp. 79-94.
  3. Clarke, S., Sato, M., Small, C., Sullivan, B., Inoue, Y. and Ochi, D. 2014. Bycatch in longline fisheries for tuna and tuna-like species: a global review of status and mitigation measures. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 588. Rome, FAO. 199 pp.
  4. Cocking, L.J., Double, M.C., Milburn, P.J. and Brando, V. 2008. Seabird bycatch mitigation and blue-dyed bait: A spectral and experimental assessment. Biological Conservation, 141, 1354-1364.
  5. Gilman E., Brothers N., Kobayashi D., Martin S., Cook J., Ray J., Ching G. and Woods B. 2003. Performance assessment of underwater setting chutes, side setting an bluedyed bait to minimize seabird mortality in Hawaii longline tuna and swordfish fisheries. Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.
  6. IOTC. 2008. Brilliant Blue FCF - colour swatch. In: IOTC Resolution 08/03, On Reducing the Incidental Bycatch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries. Annex 1.
  7. Kiyota, M., Minami, H. and Yokota, K. 2007. Overview of mitigation measures to reduce incidental catch of seabirds in Japanese tuna longline fishery. Poster presented at the joint meeting of tuna commissions, Kobe.
  8. Piovano, S., Farcomeni, A. & Giacoma, C. 2012. Do colours affect biting behaviour in loggerhead sea turtles? Ethology, Ecology & Evolution, 25: 12-20.
  9. Swimmer, Y., Arauz, R., Higgins, B., McNaughton, L., McCracken, M., Ballestero, J. and Brill, R. 2005. Food colour and marine turtle feeding behaviour: Can blue bait reduce turtle bycatch in commercial fisheries? Marine Ecology Progress Series 295: 273-278. doi:10.3354/meps295273
  10. Yokota, K., Kiyota, M. and Okamura, H. 2009. Effect of bait species and color on sea turtle bycatch in a pelagic longline fishery. Fisheries Research 97(1-2): 53-58. doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2009.01.003