The Development and Operational Testing of an Underwater Bait Setting System to Prevent the Mortality of Albatrosses and Petrels in Pelagic Longline Fisheries
Longline fisheries for tunas and tuna-like species present an existential threat to many populations of albatrosses and petrels worldwide. To prevent this form of mortality we developed a new technology designed to deploy baited hooks underwater beyond the dive depths of seabirds (6 - 10 m for the species most commonly caught). The underwater bait setter is a stern-mounted, hydraulically-operated and computer-controlled device that catapults baited hooks underwater in a steel capsule connected to hydraulic winches by Spectra® rope. Baits are flushed from the capsule by water pressure through a spring-loaded bait release door. The chief engineering challenges in the developmental stages were ensuring: 1) bait delivery to target depths with cycle times (time from release to recovery) that were practical for fishing operations; 2) bait retention in the capsule (no drop-outs) on the descent phase of the cycle; 3) baits, upon release at target depth, were not drawn up the water column on the capsule recovery phase (from possible hook-ups and/or suction); and 4) the retention of baits on hooks post-release from the capsule was not affected by the mechanical release underwater. Operational trials with the final version of the capsule yielded satisfactory cycle times to depths of 6 - 10 m. All baits were retained in the capsule on the descent and released as required at target depths (n = 606 deployments). Bait retention on hooks post release from the capsule and retention on hooks hand-set at the surface (the conventional method) were statistically indistinguishable. The underwater bait setter is modular in construction and can be fitted to all types of vessel sterns.