New bait setting trial launched to save endangered seabirds

Eugenie Sage - Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The government is funding a bait setting trial in a bid to stop seabirds being captured on tuna longline hooks.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash announced the $350,000 project to test the device in a sea trial this morning.

The new device sets baited hooks underwater, out of sight and diving depth of seabirds.

Ms Sage said fisheries needed to significantly reduce the thousands of seabirds killed each year on hooks.

"New Zealand is home to more species of seabird than any other country with more albatross, petrel, shag and penguin species breeding here than anywhere else in the world," she said.

"Many seabirds are at risk of bycatch in fishing nets including the critically endangered Antipodean albatross and the near-threatened Southern Buller's albatross."

The original prototype was developed two decades ago when New Zealand tuna fisherman Dave Kellian worked out seabirds would be safe if baited hooks were released at 10 metres. Mr Kellian then developed the original prototype device.

Mr Nash said the device could be a game changer for the industry.

"Often the best solutions are those developed by people involved in the industry. I'm very pleased we can help get this device through its final testing phase," Mr Nash said.

The device is mounted on the boat's stern and hydraulically-operated with baited hooks carried underwater in a steel capsule before water pressure flushes them out.

It will be trialled on a Nelson-based fishing vessel for six weeks during normal fishing with a specially trained engineer on site.

The collaborative trial includes funding from the Department of Conservation and Fisheries New Zealand.

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