There are many different species of seabirds found within the boundaries of AFMA managed fisheries. All of them are protected by the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Sometimes seabirds may interact with fishing boats that use trawl or longline gear.


Seabirds include any species of bird that spends a significant part of their life eating or breeding at sea. Some of the more well known seabirds are albatross, petrels and shearwaters.

Seabirds generally take their prey from the top few metres of the water column, and many are scavengers, eating dead fish, squid and other marine life. They often congregate in flocks when searching for food or can forage alone.

Fishing and seabirds – how they interact

Seabirds can interact with fishing boats that use trawl or longline gear. Birds are attracted to fishing vessels as a source of food, particularly when bycatch and offal is being thrown back into the ocean.

An ‘interaction’ is any physical contact a person, boat or fishing gear has with a protected species that causes the animal stress, injury or death.

Interactions with seabirds can happen when boats are trawling and the bird comes into contact with the wires used to drag the net along. Birds can also get caught on the hooks of longlines when the gear is being deployed and the birds are chasing the bait.

Monitoring interactions

AFMA collects data on interactions with protected species through our monitoring programs.

  • Logbooks –  All fishers are required to report any interactions they have through their logbooks.
  • Observers – Observers are AFMA officers who travel on Australian fishing boats to collect biological data and make environmental observations which contributes to the monitoring of fishing interactions with protected species.

How AFMA and industry minimise interactions

The Seabird Threat Abatement Plan was introduced to reduce the bycatch of seabirds when fishing with longline gear. The plan puts limits on seabird bycatch in all fishing areas, seasons and fisheries.

View the Seabird Threat Abatement Plan on the Australian Antarctic Division website.

Minimising interactions between seabirds and otter trawl fishing operations is recognised as a priority for AFMA and the fishing industry.

Australian trawl fisheries introduced seabird management plans (SMP) in the Great Australian Bight (GAB) Trawl and Commonwealth Trawl Sector (CTS) of the Southern and Eastern Shark and Scalefish Fishery in 2011. SMPs are tailored to individual fishing boats and identify the main threats posed to seabirds by that boat. It also sets out the mitigation measures the concession holder has agreed to implement to reduce the risk of seabird interactions.

AFMA mandated the use of bird bafflers or sprayers in the CTS and GAB fisheries from the commencement of the 2016/17 fishing season. To further ensure interactions with seabirds are minimised, additional management arrangements will be introduced during the 2019/20 fishing season that require zero discharge of biological material for otter board trawl vessels when fishing gear is in the water while fishing in high risk areas.

These new arrangements will be phased in from 1 November 2019. From this date, biological material must be retained when fishing gear is in the water south of latitude -39 degrees South and west of longitude 147 degrees East, during daylight hours. From 1 July 2020, the requirements will be extended to south of -38 degrees South.

Exemptions to the new rule will be considered if operators can demonstrate offal management techniques that remove the risk to seabirds interacting with trawl warps.

Given the current situation with the Covid-19 pandemic, if you would like to apply for an exemption please contact the trawl manager, Dan Corrie, on 0447 019 916, to discuss options available for the purpose of demonstrating mitigation approaches and gaining an exemption.

For further information about these new management arrangements or to apply for an exemption, refer to the Offal Retention Requirements in the CTS guidelines.

Demersal longline fishers must not discharge fish offal whilst setting and bringing in lines to avoid attracting seabirds. They are also required to use a tori line device that deters birds when setting gear.

Other mitigation measures include using ‘brickle curtains’ to scare seabirds away when bringing lines in, and using weights to make sure baited hooks sink quickly to a depth that birds can not dive to.

Trawl fishers in the South East Trawl and Great Australian Bight Trawl fisheries must use one of the following mitigation measures, to be specified in their Seabird Management Plans (SMP):

  1. bird bafflers
  2. water sprayers
  3. pinkies with zero offal discharge

New offal retention requirements have also been introduced for otter board trawlers in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector from 1 November 2019. More information can be found under ‘Seabird management plans’ above.

Read more about bycatch reduction devices.

Protected species that are identified as high risk bycatch species are dealt with through bycatch and discard workplans for each fishery. The workplans are integrated into the management arrangements for each fishery, and are reviewed every 12 months and formally renewed every two years.

Read more about bycatch and discarding workplans.