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    Crested tern bird

    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 have now been introduced that require zero discharge of biological material for otter board trawl boats in the CTS when fishing gear is in the water while fishing in high risk areas.

    These new arrangements were phased in across two stages to allow industry time to prepare and develop new mitigation approaches. From 1 November 2019, new rules were introduced specifying that all biological material 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. Then from 1 July 2020, these requirements were extended to include south of 38 degrees South.

    AFMA will consider exemptions to these requirements on a case by case basis, if operators can demonstrate mitigation approaches 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 first 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.


    Testing mitigation approaches from July 2020

    Testing a new mitigation approach generally requires the discharge of biological material, and should be completed during daylight hours when the risk to seabirds is greatest in order to demonstrate whether the approach works.

    From 1 July 2020, biological material can only be discarded during daylight hours if operators are fishing north of 38 degrees South. Operators who wish to test mitigation approaches in waters south of 38 degrees South, in order to support their application for an exemption, must first apply for a scientific permit. Permit applications must be submitted to AFMA and be approved, prior to testing mitigation approaches south of 38 degrees South.

    Ordinarily, an AFMA observer will be deployed to observe the mitigation approach in practice and to determine its effectiveness as part of the application process for an exemption. However, when an AFMA observer is not available, AFMA will require that the operator supplies adequate video footage to demonstrate that the mitigation approach is effective in removing the risk to seabirds. Further information about this process including applying for a scientific permit and video footage requirements are outlined in the Guidelines for the retention of biological material in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector.

    To apply for a scientific permit or to start an application for an exemption, first contact Dan Corrie, Trawl Manager, on 0447 019 916 or by email daniel.corrie@afma.gov.au. Information about the scientific permit application process and applying for an exemption are available in the Guidelines. Please allow a minimum of 7 working days for AFMA to assess your application and advise the outcome

    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.

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    Page last updated: 11/02/2023