In recent years, the increasing demand for fish, advances in fishing technology, and a general failure to effectively integrate sustainable development principles into fisheries policy and management have resulted in a major decline in marine biodiversity. Fisheries’ impacts on seabirds are substantial, with the bycatch in pelagic longline fisheries serving as the primary driver of the continuing decline of albatross and petrel (Procellariiformes) populations. Globally, 18 of the 22 species of albatross and petrel are now threatened with extinction under International Union for Conservation of Nature criteria. In many cases this is primarily due to seabird mortality in longlines when birds are hooked as they dive for the bait on fishing hooks, and in trawl fisheries when birds collide with trawl cables or become entangled in netting.
Ben Sullivan’s Pew fellowship project worked with the BirdLife International Albatross Task Force’s staff and structures to conduct research and help develop best-practice mitigation measures for some of the world’s seabird bycatch hotspots. The task force is an international team of mitigation instructors working on the front line of seabird conservation in seven countries throughout southern Africa and South America. The task force works on grassroots projects with fishers on shore and at sea to provide developing countries with the capacity to assist in turning conservation policy into concrete action to reduce seabird bycatch. Sullivan’s research activities included the development and testing of new designs and materials to improve the performance of streamer lines in reducing seabird mortality in pelagic longline and trawl fisheries. Streamer lines, also called bird lines or tori lines, are attached to the rear of fishing vessels and towed alongside the fishing lines in the water. In trawl fisheries, streamer lines help scare birds away from trawl cables. Sullivan also investigated the effectiveness of new technology to encapsulate baited hooks while they sink below the danger zone for seabirds, and he will test innovative line weighting technology for pelagic longline fisheries. Sullivan is the bycatch mitigation specialist at Fishtek Marine. To learn more about Sullivan, read his bio.