NOAA Fisheries proposes requiring streamer lines to protect seabirds

Fall 2014

NOAA Fisheries is proposing a rule that would require West Coast longline vessels 55 feet and over in the groundfish fishery to use special devices called streamer lines, designed to keep endangered short-tailed albatross from getting caught in their fishing gear. The rule is now open for public comment through Oct. 9, 2014.

Bright vertical streamers on longline fishing gear scares the endangered short-tailed albatross.

Streamer lines have been required in federally managed longline fisheries in Alaska for years and have dramatically reduced the number of seabirds caught in fishing gear. Fishermen who have used the lines to ward off seabirds say there’s also a financial benefit: the streamer lines keep seabirds from swiping their bait, saving them money in the long run.

NOAA Fisheries has provided funding to make streamer lines available free to West Coast longline vessels through the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and Englund Marine stores in coastal cities or through LFSI Inc. of Seattle at 800-647-2135. About 150 streamer lines have been distributed free to the West Coast fleet in 2014.

The diagram above shows how streamer lines made from orange tubing protect fishing gear and bait from birds. The span of the line and streamers lifted off of the water scares the birds, keeping them away from the baited hooks.

“In terms of regulations on the West Coast, this has been the most effective one I’ve seen,” said Dave Hedrick, who fishes in Alaska and along the West Coast. “It all came about because of really good cooperation between users and the regulatory agency, with a very effective means of accomplishing a goal. Streamer lines do a very good job of not catching birds.”

The streamer lines are suspended from masts or booms on fishing boats and descend to floats towed behind the boats. Streamers made of orange tubing hang freely off the line so they sway in the wind and scare seabirds away from baited fishing lines in the water below. The streamer lines are relatively inexpensive to manufacture and fishermen say they effectively eliminate any possibility of birds becoming caught in their fishing gear.

The streamer lines now available on the West Coast are patterned after those used in Alaska. NOAA Fisheries is funding research by Washington Sea Grant and Oregon State University to develop improved streamer line designs for West Coast vessels, including smaller vessels with tighter quarters. Scientists are working alongside fishermen at-sea to test different streamer line designs during real-world operations and compare the effectiveness of different streamer line configurations at preventing birds from getting close to the lines, bait, and hooks.

“That’s the environment it’s going to be used in, so we want designs that fit in as easily as possible because that increases the chances it’s going to be used effectively,” said Ed Melvin, a marine fisheries senior scientist at Washington Sea Grant who is leading the research. He said some fishermen go from calling streamer lines “bird savers” to calling them “bait savers” after using them.

It takes some practice to use streamer lines effectively, but the effort is well worth it, Hedrick said.

“The benefits far outweigh the work of figuring out how to incorporate them into your routine,” he said.

More than half of the Makah Tribe’s longline fleet currently uses streamer lines, said Joe Petersen, a groundfish biologist with the Tribe. He said the fishermen who use the streamer lines like a new and improved design that incorporates swivels and they see them as an asset to the longline fishery.

Although no tribal longline vessel has caught an albatross, they did in the past occasionally hook other birds such as seagulls. The streamer lines have effectively stopped that, he said.

“With the use of the streamer lines many fishermen have noticed substantial reductions in the number of missing baits from longline gear and have had resulting higher catch rates of target species,” Petersen said. In some cases crews have asked for additional streamer lines and have begun using two lines off the back of their boats to boost their effectiveness even further.

"Fishermen deserve great credit for helping us find a solution that's effective and easy to use," said Steve Copps, a NOAA Fisheries policy analyst who led the development of the proposed rule. "It's a win-win on so many fronts: for fishermen, for seabirds, and for sustainable fisheries."

For further information on safeguarding seabirds from fishing gear visit Washington Sea Grant’s seabird bycatch website. Fishermen interested in working with researchers in evaluating streamer line designs are encouraged to contact Melvin through the website.

For further information and instructions on how to submit comments, visit:

http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/frn/2014/79fr53401.pdf

Home page photo:Hiroshi Hasegawa, Toho University

Fishing boat photo: Rob Suryan, Oregon State University

Streamers graphic: Washington SeaGrant