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UK and US Fishermen to Exchange Seabird Conservation Ideas

27 August 2014

UK - The European Commission-funded GAP2 exchange program, part of the GAP2 Project, is designed to help support the development and dissemination of best practices in sustainable fisheries management, based on an ‘ecosystem approach’, across the EU.

Fisherman, Rex Harrison, and seabird expert Rory Crawford will travel together to witness innovative bird conservation measures in action in Washington State’s salmon fishing grounds.

Salmon and sea trout netsman Rex Harrison has been funded by international fisheries research project, GAP2, to travel to the Puget Sound, near Seattle, alongside RSPB’s Rory Crawford.

Their mission is to, together, share knowledge and develop new ideas on how to implement bird-friendly net fishing techniques, reducing bycatch in net fisheries.

"I am really looking forward to taking part in this GAP2 exchange - the fisherman in Filey have really got behind work to reduce seabird by-catch in our nets, and I am keen to share what we've learnt with salmon fishers in Puget Sound, and in turn see what they can teach us about how they are reducing by-catch.

"I think it's brilliant that Filey is leading the way in responsible, sustainable fishing methods that protect our seabirds, and this exchange will only help us build on the work already underway," said Rex Harrison, Filey fisherman.

Every year, around 400,000 seabirds die after becoming entangled in gillnets – a type of fishing net used commonly in the Filey Bay area, hung vertically in the water column to catch fish by their gills.

This unintentional ‘seabird bycatch’ occurs globally, particularly affecting diving birds and, until now, little has been done to investigate ways of fishing which could help reduce this kind of bird mortality.

But Filey fishermen are among a small number of pioneers. The expedition builds upon measures already taken in the area to prevent birds – particularly Razorbills and Guillemots – from becoming entangled in fishermen’s nets. Rex’s trip has been planned to offer insights into the use of specially designed ‘bird nets’ employed in the Puget Sound sockeye salmon fishery to try and reduce seabird bycatch.

Thousands of miles apart, but connected by the issue of seabird bycatch, these two fisheries represent key starting points in developing best practice in the ‘ecosystem approach’ to fishing: respecting and protecting the whole ecosystem affected by fishing activity.

Rory Crawford, Senior Policy Officer for BirdLife International’s Marine Programme, which is hosted in the UK by the RSPB, said: “BirdLife have worked with fishermen from all over the world to achieve reductions in seabird bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries, particularly through our Albatross Task Force, working directly on fishing vessels.

"Solving this problem in gillnet fisheries, however, presents a new and thus far poorly studied challenge. Through working with fishermen like Rex over the coming years, we hope to find practical solutions that minimise bird catch but don’t impact target fish catch.

"Funding from GAP2 to make this possible is so important, helping to build understanding between sectors.”

With so many insights to share, and perspectives from two fisheries that are similar in some ways but vastly different in others, Rex and Rory will be traveling together and spending a week engaging with management officials, fishermen, netmakers, and local scientists, as well as observing fishing vessels and exploring the rich waters of the Sound.

The European Commission-funded GAP2 exchange program, part of the GAP2 Project, is designed to help support the development and dissemination of best practices in sustainable fisheries management, based on an ‘ecosystem approach’, across the EU.

This Puget Sound exchange is one of a series of expeditions that will be taking place over the next six months, exploring how fishermen, scientists and policy makers work together in different fisheries, worldwide, to build a sustainable future for our seas.

All exchanges can be followed on Twitter, on #GAP2exchange.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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