Testing novel seabird bycatch mitigation in Iceland lumpfish fisheries

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Icelandic Sustainable Fisheries (ISF) Iceland Lumpfish Fishery

Amount awarded: £44,509 

This project will test new ways to reduce unwanted bycatch of seabirds in the ISF Iceland Lumpfish fishery. The fishery was re-assessed and certified in November 2020, after having previously lost its MSC certificate in 2018 due to seabird and seal bycatch related issues.  

As a condition of its certification, the fishery must develop a bycatch strategy that does not hinder the recovery of endangered, threatened or protected seabirds. This means minimising bycatch and proving that it is not having an impact on populations of endangered species such as black guillemots. The fishery has four years from certification to complete this objective, and will be helped by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). 

While there are various technical mitigation measures that have proven effective in reducing seabird bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries, there is no clear solution for gillnets as used by the lumpfish fishery. 

To protect birds from gillnets, the RSPB, BirdLife International and engineers at Fishtek Marine Ltd have developed a prototype device called the “looming-eyes buoy” (LEB). This consists of a floating buoy that displays large obvious ‘looming eyes’ that can be seen from far away and is used as a bird deterrent. In sea trials in Estonia, it has been shown to reduce the presence of vulnerable seabird species

This Science and Research Fund grant will fund trials of an updated ‘fishery friendly’ version of the LEB buoy with Icelandic lumpfish fishers. The target is to reduce seabird bycatch by at least 25%.  

The effectiveness of the device would be a significant breakthrough both for the fishery and for other gillnet fisheries around the globe, as bycatch has been recognised as one of the top three threats affecting seabird species globally. This would offer industry and fisheries managers a less economically damaging alternative to fishery closures. 

The issue of seabird bycatch in gillnets is not restricted to this fishery or even to that part of the world. Finding a solution here could potentially help many other gillnet fisheries around the world where an effective mitigation measure to bycatch is still direly needed

Yann Rouxel The RSPB

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