One of the most significant seabird by-catches in over a decade occurred in the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) Marine Zone last week, by the Chilean longliner Antarctic Bay.
Chief Executive and Director of Fisheries for the Government of SGSSI, Martin Collins told Penguin News the circumstances surrounding the capture of the birds was being investigated and once complete a decision would be made about what, if any, action was required.
A report that one of the longline vessels licensed to fish in the SGSSI MZ had caught 74 white-chinned petrels on a single line was received on April 16.
“This is the most significant bird by-catch event we have had in the fishery for more than 10 years,” said Mr Collins.
He explained that in the early years of the fishery (1990s) large numbers of birds were killed and as a consequence the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) introduced a number of measures to reduce the by-catch, including limiting the season to the winter months, restricting the setting of lines to darkness, ensuring lines sink quickly and enforcing the use of streamer lines.
“As a consequence of these measures bird by-catch has been reduced to close to zero,” said Mr Collins.
On the back of this success CCAMLR has, since 2010, approved an incremental relaxation of the season restriction.
During the period 2010 to 2014 the start of the season has been incrementally and experimentally brought forward by five days each year.
This year vessels were allowed to start fishing on April 6. The incidental catch occurred on lines set during this experimental extension period.
Mr Collins said licence conditions have now been adjusted to ensure that vessels complete the setting of lines at least three hours before sunrise to reduce the risk of incidental capture of white-chinned petrels.
“This new condition will be in force until May 15, by which time the risk to white-chinned petrels should be greatly reduced,” said Mr. Collins. (PN).-