March 22, 2002
New technology that keeps fish hooks and bait out of sight of birds promises to protect thousands of seabirds around the Hawaii tuna longline fishery, the National Audubon Society says.
Trials were completed off the coast of Hawaii last week.
"Preliminary analysis of the research data indicates the chute was significantly more effective at avoiding seabird deaths when compared to a control of setting under normal tuna fishing practices," said Eric Gilman, project manager for the trial of the chute and Pacific representative for Audubon's Living Oceans Program.
Snagging on longline fishing hooks is considered one of the worst of all the manmade and natural threats to seabirds. Birds most at risk from death in Hawaii's and other North Pacific longline fisheries are petrels and albatross, including the short tailed, black footed and Laysan albatrosses.
The birds get hooked or entangled when gear is being set and are dragged underwater, and drown as the fishing gear sinks.
In last week's Hawaii trial, about 6.5 percent of baited hooks set without the underwater chute were snagged by seabirds, killing 24 birds. When setting with the chute, seabirds contacted just 0.2 percent of baited hooks set, and no birds were caught or killed.
"The data indicate that the chute is effective at avoiding seabird interactions with longline gear in the Hawaii fleet," said Jim Cook, owner of the fishing vessel Katy Mary and representative of the Hawaii Longline Association. "And, equally important, the longline industry is likely to support use of the chute, as it promises to save fishers money by reducing bait loss, and does not require significant alteration of normal fishing practices."
The underwater chute does not, however, solve the problem of cetaceans, sea turtles, sharks and other species being caught and killed by the tuna longlines.