Best practice seabird bycatch mitigation for pelagic longline fisheries targeting tuna and related species

Melvin EF, Guy TJ, Read LB (2014) Best practice seabird bycatch mitigation for pelagic longline fisheries targeting tuna and related species. Fisheries Research 149:5–18.

We comprehensively tested combinations of three primary mitigation measures in a pelagic longline fishery with one of the highest rates of interaction with what may be the world's most challenging seabird assemblage (dominated by Procellaria genus petrels), aboard fishing vessels typical of the Asian distant water fleet. Multiple measures were used to compare the performance of weighted vs. unweighted branch lines set with two bird-scaring lines – hybrid lines with long and short streamers – during daytime and nighttime. The weights used were a novel double-weight configuration. Secondary attacks on baits brought to the surface by white-chinned petrels drove albatross mortality. Regardless of time of day, weighted branch lines with two bird-scaring lines, deployed and maintained with an aerial extent of 100m, reduced bird attacks by a factor of four, and secondary attacks and seabird mortality by a factor of seven, compared to unweighted branch lines, with little effect on fish catch rates and with no injuries to crew. This combination yielded zero bird mortalities when gear was set at night. We conclude that the simultaneous use of two bird-scaring lines, weighted branch lines and night setting meet our criteria for best-practice seabird bycatch mitigation for the joint-venture fleet targeting tuna and related species in the South African EEZ. To be successful, the aerial extent of bird-scaring lines should be aligned with the distance astern that baited hooks sink beyond the foraging depth of the dominant seabird – in this case white-chinned petrels to a depth near 5m. Given that these measures were successful in one of the most challenging pelagic longline fisheries, they are likely to be widely applicable to pelagic longline fisheries using similar gear.