Feature Story

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AFMA Bycatch and Discard Program – working with industry to make a difference (part one)

The 2016–17 financial year saw the AFMA bycatch program undertake a number of key projects across the Northern Prawn, South East Trawl and Great Australian Bight trawl fisheries as well as working on overarching bycatch and protected species strategies for all fisheries.

In the Northern Prawn Fishery, AFMA collaborated with the Northern Prawn Fishery Industry Pty Ltd (NPFI), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, A. Raptis and Sons Pty Ltd. and Tropic Ocean Prawns to undertake what was one of the largest and most successful Bycatch Reduction Device trials in the Northern Prawn Fishery since the development of turtle excluder devices in the 1990s. The trials, part of the NPFI voluntary Bycatch Reduction Strategy 2015–2018, tested the industry-designed Kon’s Covered Fisheye against the most commonly used square mesh panel Bycatch Reduction Device while targeting tiger prawns in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The Kon’s Covered Fisheye is a revised version of the existing fisheye Bycatch Reduction Device, with the main difference being the Kon’s Covered Fisheye incorporates a ‘cone’ inside the fisheye frame. The cone has greatly enhanced the design of the traditional fisheye, allowing bycatch to escape without prawn loss. One of the key advantages to the revised design is that it can be placed far closer to the end of the net (codend), where the catch accumulates, and where a square mesh panel could not be used. This has contributed to a far greater reduction in fish bycatch.

Results from the trial indicated a reduction in bycatch of approximately 36 per cent with no prawn loss. The total data-set included just under 70 trawl shots with the contents of each net cod-end being weighed individually. As prawn trawlers in the Northern Prawn Fishery primarily tow quad-rigged gear (four nets), this equated to the contents of almost 280 codends being analysed. AFMA Bycatch officers and observers spent approximately 1200 hours in the field on this project whilst on-board the industry trawlers.

It is anticipated that further trialling will be undertaken during the 2017 tiger prawn season to determine the optimal position in the codend for the Kon’s Covered Fisheye and other potential operational improvements. The final report on the work undertaken during 2017 trialling the Kon’s Covered Fisheye is available here: http://www.afma.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Kons-Covered-Fisheyes-BRD-Trial-Report-Northern-Prawn-Fishery–2016_FINAL.pdf Kon’s Covered Fisheye’s stitched into net prior to trialling.

Photo courtesy: AFMA

AFMA Bycatch and Discard Program – working with industry to make a difference (part two)

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In 2016–17 the AFMA bycatch program undertook a number of key projects across the Northern Prawn, South East Trawl and Great Australian Bight trawl fisheries as well as working on overarching bycatch and protected species strategies for all fisheries.

The bycatch program also undertook an extensive project, in close collaboration with industry, in the South East Trawl and Great Australian Bight Trawl fisheries, with the implementation of ’bird bafflers’. A bird baffler is a system of droppers arranged off a rigid frame to create a curtain around the area where trawl warp wires enter the water. This area is identified as the danger zone for seabirds foraging for bits of food at the back of trawl boats.

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Trials undertaken during 2014 demonstrated that the bird baffler and the seabird sprayer (a similar system to the bird baffler, but the ’curtain’ is created by spraying jets of water around the trawl warps) both drastically reduced seabird interactions with trawl warp wires when compared to the existing mitigation device used (600mm warp deflector, known as a ‘pinky’). Pinkies had also caused some workplace health and safety concerns for a number of operators as attaching the buoy onto the warps is far easier on some vessels than others.

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On the back of the success of these sea trials, the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association asked AFMA to strengthen seabird bycatch mitigation measures in the southern trawl fisheries to demonstrate that industry was serious about reducing seabird bycatch. AFMA subsequently mandated that, from the commencement of the 2017 fishing season, all vessels must install bird bafflers or seabird sprayers, or have demonstrated to AFMA that they can fish using pinkies without discarding offal whilst trawl gear was under tow.

Of the three mitigation options, 30 vessels fitted bafflers, one vessel fitted a sprayer system and one vessel is operating with pinkies under an offal retention regime.

The AFMA bycatch program undertook extensive consultation with industry, which included the development of an instructional video on how to construct bird bafflers, and in excess of 20 port visits and over 250 phone calls were made.

AFMA would like to congratulate industry for the significant amount of work undertaken to install bafflers and sprayers on vessels in the South East Trawl and Great Australian Bight Trawl fisheries. This is an outstanding result for the fishery and demonstrates industry’s willingness to address interactions with seabirds. The project was also an excellent example of how government/science/industry partnerships can deliver real conservation solutions.

The AFMA Bycatch and Discards team also recently developed Fishery Management Paper Number 15 – AFMA Bycatch Strategy. The Bycatch Strategy has been developed to guide consistency in the management of bycatch across all Commonwealth fisheries. The strategy is based on a set of principles that link our operational environment with government and legislative requirements. The strategy also aims to achieve more transparency and practicality to bycatch management along with improved monitoring and reporting of bycatch interactions in Commonwealth fisheries. The document sets out our commitment and approach to minimising and reducing bycatch in Commonwealth managed fisheries.

Leading on from the strategy, a number of Protected Species strategies are being developed to operationalise the principles of the bycatch strategy. These will include strategies for a number of key Threatened, Endangered and Protected species such as seabirds, seals and dolphins.

Image top-left: FV Western Alliance with bafflers deployed whilst fishing. Image top-right: Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Photo courtesy: Alex Inwood, observer