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.

Australian trawl fisheries introduced seabird management plans in the Great Australian Bight Trawl and Commonwealth Trawl Sector of the Southern and Eastern Shark and Scalefish Fishery in 2011.

Seabird management plans 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.

New offal retention requirements for otter board trawl vessels

While bafflers have shown to reduce interactions with seabirds and are considered to be the best form of physical mitigation, there are still instances where vessels interact with seabirds in high risk areas. To ensure interactions with seabirds are minimised, additional management arrangements for the 2019-20 SESSF season will require zero discharge of biological material for otter board trawl vessels when fishing gear is in the water while fishing in high risk areas. The definitions of biological material allows for discarding of sensitive large animals such as sharks and rays as well as small items such as oil and scales that reflect the reality of wet boat operations.

These new arrangements will be phased in from 1 July 2019. From this date, operators will not be allowed to discard biological material while fishing gear is in the water south of latitude -39 Degrees South during daylight hours (between the times of nautical twilight). Following this, the requirement will be extended to south of -38 Degree South from 1 September 2019. 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. Requests for exemption will be considered against a set of guidelines that can be found in the Applying for Exemptions to Offal Regulations in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector document.

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 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 July 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.