Globally, an albatross dies on a fishing hook every 5 seconds. Since working with Falklands Conservation from 1996-2005, biologist Becky Ingham has wanted to help prevent the decline of these iconic birds. The Hookpod is a clever new invention that catches fish, not birds and here Becky tells us how ot works.
What’s the problem?
From my first sighting of an albatross as a rookie fisheries observer in 1996, I knew I wanted to have more to do with these huge, amazing and graceful birds. I was lucky enough to be able to work with a team of people through the early 2000’s in the Falklands to ensure that populations there are well protected. Since then and thanks to the commitment of the Seabirds at Sea team and the local fishing industry, the fisheries working in the islands now are amongst the best in the world at preventing seabird bycatch. But the birds are not just within Falklands waters and the problem is a global one. In my current role as CEO of Hookpod Ltd, we are trying to tackle this problem on a global scale, using technology for fishermen, which will also save them money and time. Dr Ben Sullivan, who many will remember from his brilliant work in the Falklands from 2001, has been closely involved in the development of the Hookpod and is now a director of the company.
By far the biggest threat faced by many albatross and other seabirds is death on tuna and swordfish longline fishing hooks. As the name suggests, this fishing technique involves very long lines of baited hooks - a single vessel may use a line extending 130 km, from which can hang as many as 10-20,000 baited hooks. Often a disposable chemical lightstick is attached above the hook to attract bait fish. These plastic, single-use lightsticks are often discarded into the sea.
Every year longliners set about three billion hooks, killing an estimated 300,000 seabirds every year, of which 100,000 are albatrosses. 15 out of 22 species of albatrosses are threatened with extinction. Death in these longline fisheries is the greatest threat to the majority of species. When baited hooks are set from the stern of the vessel, before they sink they are still visible near the sea's surface. At this stage, foraging birds spot them and try to grab the bait before it sinks. They can become hooked, dragged under and drowned. This is obviously bad news for the birds, but also the fishermen, who would rather catch fish.
How Hookpod Works
The Hookpod has been designed to reduce the number of birds killed to near zero. It achieves this by enclosing the point and barb of the hook as it enters the water, making it impossible for birds to become hooked. The pod has an air pressure mechanism which opens on reaching fishing depth and the baited hook is released to begin fishing. In short it keeps birds off hooks, opens underwater, has a light in it and means fishermen can catch fish and not birds.
When the fishing is finished, Hookpods are simply pulled onboard, closed up again and stored along with the hooks and line in standard fishing bins ready to be used again. It’s very durable and long lasting, meaning there is reduced waste and increased efficiency.
Using the power of the Internet
‘Following many successful trials undertaken largely by the the RSPB Albatross Task Force acting on behalf of Birdlife International, we are now seeking funds via the Kickstarter website to start commercial scale production.’
Hookpod is using the online crowd source funding platform to try and raise £100,000 to get Hookpods into production and start distribution around world fisheries. Money is being raised to buy machinery and component parts.
You can see the project here https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hookpod/hookpod-saving-the-albatross-from-extinction
All money raised will directly help put Hookpods in the water where they can start saving albatross. The project will be online and available to donate to until August. The Hookpod is the result of years of design and feedback from fisheries to end up with something that not only stops birds being killed, but can save fishermen time and money. We’re really excited that using Kickstarter could give us the chance to produce this here in the UK, while saving albatross all around the world.
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