Aotearoa New Zealand is home to one-third of all species of seabird and the breeding ground for the highest number of seabird species worldwide. In recent times, many seabird species have become threatened or endangered. Fishing practices are a contributor along with other pressures such as pollution, diseases, invasive predators and habitat degradation.
Seabirds can be killed on baited hooks or become trapped in the long line that trails for many kilometres behind a boat. Around 30 years ago, Leigh fisher Dave Kellian thought up a solution to reduce the risk of this happening – an underwater bait setting system that sets longline hooks out of sight for seabirds.
Such a system could minimise bycatch and reduce bait loss, making longlining more sustainable. But for years, the solution sat idle. As a busy fisher, Dave faced barriers to translating his idea into a functional device – navigating funding applications, designing, prototyping, trialling and validating the technology would all need to happen in his own time, unpaid, which was not feasible.
For years, the solution sat idle. As a busy fisher, Dave faced barriers to translating his idea into a functional device – navigating funding applications, designing, prototyping, trialling and validating the technology would all need to happen in his own time, unpaid, which was not feasible.
‘Seabird smart fishing’ sign on the door at Lee Fish in Leigh.
Dave shared his idea widely and over time, various systems were designed by others, with much trial and error. Trialling underwater bait setting systems at sea is expensive and securing funds to trial systems in Aotearoa New Zealand has proved challenging, until recently.
The collaborative charitable trust Southern Seabird Solutions has been instrumental in bringing the idea to fruition here in Aotearoa New Zealand. The alliance focuses on protecting seabirds and as part of that mission they championed the underwater bait setting system and helped to find funding to get trials underway. Having fishers, scientists, conservationists and government officials within the group meant that it was well connected to the opportunities and processes that could help secure funding and get buy-in throughout the industry.
Because of these efforts, Fisheries Inshore New Zealand is now leading work to trial an underwater bait-setting system in the surface longline fishery in Aotearoa New Zealand. Skadia Technologies’ device has so far been trialled by Altair Fishing and was due for final testing in late 2019, but has faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally reaching the stage where this innovation is close to implementation in the industry is a significant achievement, but some consider it long overdue. The experience shines a light on some of the barriers that prevent good ideas becoming best practice.
- Often the best solutions are those developed by fishers themselves, but it is particularly challenging for small-scale fishers to get their ideas off the ground and a lack of resources makes it even harder.
- Connections to and support from the wider industry, researchers and NGOs are crucial and can be facilitated by groups like Southern Seabird Solutions. Wider connectivity across the sector would lower the barriers to innovation.
- The criteria and focus of funding need to change to support innovation in fisheries. Improved access for fishers to progress good ideas could have significant sustainability outcomes.
- Focusing on innovations that provide economic benefits may mean that innovations that significantly improve environmental or sustainability outcomes are overlooked, delaying the protection of vulnerable species and habitats.
Often the best solutions are those developed by fishers themselves, but it is particularly challenging for small-scale fishers to get their ideas off the ground and a lack of resources makes it even harder.
References and footnotes
 Department of Conservation (2017) A fisher’s guide to New Zealand seabirds.
 Croxall, J. P. et al. (2012) Seabird conservation status and threats: A global assessment of priorities, Bird Conservation International, 22, pp. 1–34.