Longlining success

Longliner Avro Chieftain in the southern ocean Longliner Avro Chieftain in the southern ocean

Press coverage mentioning longlining does tend to focus on the negatives – mainly on the issue of bycatch. However, a couple of recent stories are showing longlining in a more positive light.

In Australia, demersal longlining has been introduced (from 15 April) in the Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery (MITF).

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) sought support from Tony Burke, Australian Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities following a successful trial of the longlining method over four seasons from 2007 to 2010. The trial showed that Patagonian Toothfish could be effectively targeted by longlining.

In the trial it was demonstrated that the adoption of a range of mitigation strategies could avoid interactions with seabirds. Independent observers reported no injuries to seabirds during the four year trial.

Following a recommendation from the Sub-Antarctic Resource Assessment Group and the Sub-Antarctic Fisheries Management Advisory Committee, the Commission agreed to the total allowable catch (TAC) for the MITF for the 2011/12.

The TACs for Patagonian Toothfish are 150t for the Aurora Trough sector and 360t for the Macquarie Ridge sector. A catch limit of 200t for all bycatch species as a whole, with a 50t limit on any one species, will also apply.

MSC certification

It has also been announced that the Macquarie Island toothfish fishery, operated by Austral Fisheries and Australian Longline, has entered full assessment for MSC certification.

This is the Australian operators' third fishery to undergo MSC assessment with their HIMI mackerel icefish fishery successfully gaining MSC certification in 2006, and their HIMI toothfish fishery currently undergoing full assessment.

The fishery comprises up to three vessels responsible for a total annual catch of more than 500mt of toothfish using longline and trawl methods. This catch is sold predominantly to the US, Japanese and Chinese markets.

Austral Fisheries CEO, David Carter says: “Seeking MSC certification for the Macquarie Island toothfish fishery is part of our ongoing commitment to sustainable fishing practices, and our broader support for the MSC program as the world’s pre-eminent, scientifically rigorous and independent certification for wild caught fisheries. 

“Gaining MSC certification will recognise the collaborative efforts of industry, scientists, fishermen, conservation groups and policy makers to ensure sustainable management practices are in place for this fishery.

“This collaborative working has led to strict management measures being placed on the fishery limiting the number of vessels allowed to operate, setting target and bycatch limits and imposing seasonal closures and stringent seabird mitigation requirements. They have also led to the establishment of one of the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas to further protect biodiversity in the area.”

Australian Longline’s CEO, Les Scott, says: “Australian Longline and Austral Fisheries have also been working together to focus on longlining methods and have agreed not to use trawl fishing while developing improved understandings of the toothfish stocks and their distribution on the Macquarie Ridge. 

“This joint operation has shown clear benefits, including improved stock assessment and biological understanding of toothfish by scientists at CSIRO and the Australian Antarctic Division, while at the same time avoiding any interactions with seabirds or other Macquarie Island wildlife. We are confident that these measures will bode well for the upcoming MSC assessment.”

New ‘weak hooks’

Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Mexico, longliners who fish for yellowfin tuna, swordfish and other species in the Gulf will be using a new ‘weak hook’, designed to reduce the incidental catch of Atlantic bluefin tuna.

The hooks are required as of May this year.

 The bycatch of bluefin tuna is a problem for this area, and fishing for the species has been prohibited since the early 1980s. However, the weak hook could solve this problem.

The weak hook is a circular hook constructed of thin gauge wire, and is designed to straighten when a large fish, such as bluefin tuna, is hooked, releasing it but holding on to smaller fish. The average size of bluefin tuna landed in the Gulf of Mexico longline fishery is 485 pounds, while the average for yellowfin tuna is about 86 pounds. 

“NOAA worked with longline fishermen from the Gulf to test the weak hook carefully over the last three years,” said Eric Schwaab, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “Our cooperative scientific research with fishermen is showing that this new technology can protect bluefin tuna in the Gulf while still allowing fishermen to target yellowfin tuna and swordfish.”

Research showed that the weak hook could result in some reductions in target catch while some longline fishermen have reported weak hooks did not hurt their businesses.

“During our tests, we used regular hooks for half our hooks and half were the new weak hooks,” said Captain Mike Carden, a longline fisherman from Panama City, Florida, who took part in the cooperative research. “We were so happy with the weak hooks we quit using the heavy hooks. The weak hook releases fish we don’t want to catch. Because it’s smaller and lighter, we catch more yellowfin tuna on the weak hook. There are several of us who have gone to the weak hook.”

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