Birds of a feather
21 Sep 2016
One of Julie’s crew with the bird-tracking radar supplied by Furuno
Tuna fishermen in the Maldives seek the help of nature’s best fish finder as the International Pole & Line Foundation and Furuno USA partner on trial of bird-tracking radar technology in sustainable tuna fisheries.
It’s a well-known fact that if you want to catch fish you need to know how to find them, and in order to find fish, you need look no further than seabirds – the undisputed masters of fish finding.
While radar is predominantly used for navigation and collision avoidance, with the right equipment and knowledge it can also be used to locate flocks of seabirds on the distant horizon. There is nothing new about bird-spotting radars that have been in use with the purse seine fleet since the the first bird radars were developed and made available by Furuno in 1986, but this technology has not before been widely used by other tuna catchers such as pole-and-fleets.
An extensive trial started this week on board Maldivian pole-and-line vessel Julie, which sails with a crew of fifteen, using bird-tracking radar technology that spots the birds that are preying on surface feed fish species. This provides fishermen with a good indication that tuna may be feeding on the same feed fish from below the surface.
Exploring the potential opportunities for such equipment in one-by-one tuna fisheries, the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) has teamed up with Furuno USA for the three-month trial programme on board Julie. As well as providing all the equipment for the trial, Furuno USA has provided all the necessary training and advice needed to locate seabirds via radar.
“Furuno USA is extraordinarily pleased to provide support to IPNLF and Maldivian fisheries. Furuno was founded on fishing technology and we’re compelled by the opportunity to contribute to sustainable and successful fishing practices. We are highly confident our UHD radar technology and the DRS6AX antenna with our TTZl12F multi-function display will prove to be a game changer in the Maldives,” said Matt Wood of Furuno USA.
Ibrahim Nadheeh an IPNLF Data Acquisition Officer based in the Maldives, is accompanying Julie’s crew during the trial to gather data to establish, among other things, whether the bird-tracking radar makes a significant difference to tuna catch rates and fishing efficiency.
The trial is the latest project to come out of the longstanding memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreement between IPNLF and the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture (MoFA) in the Maldives. Indeed, IPNLF is extremely grateful for the continued support of joint initiatives that it receives from MoFA and Dr Mohamed Shainee, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture for the Maldives. Both Dr Shainee and John Burton, Chairman of IPNLF, are looking forward to reviewing the progress made during the trial’s first month.
“For centuries, Maldivian vessel skippers have used seabirds to pinpoint the location of tuna schools, and yet this process alone can take fishing crews several hours at sea. Our hope is that radar technology will significantly reduce the time and resources spent seeking out fishing opportunities, thus making operations much more efficient and viable. While we are exploring the possible benefits that new technology can bring to the Maldivian fishery, the project gives a big nod to tradition and the special relationship these fishermen have with the local birdlife,” said John Burton.
“If the equipment trial on this vessel is successful, these systems could prove invaluable tools for one-by-one tuna fisheries in other locations. There are many instances where this sector is vital to the economy and culture of coastal communities, so it’s imperative we explore every avenue in order that they can continue to provide jobs, food and development opportunities for many generations to come,” he commented.
The positive interactions which arise when seabirds help fishermen find fish contrasts with the negative impacts that can occur when seabirds interact with fishing operations. There have been serious seabirds impacts when birds are hooked or entangled in fishing gear. Unintentional deaths, ‘seabird bycatch’, kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds each year. However, the low environmental impact of pole-and-line fisheries is well known, and on the very rare occasions when seabird entanglements occur in these types of fisheries, they can usually be extricated and released alive.
IPNLF helps ensure the demand for one-by-one caught tuna can be met without compromising the sustainability of the fisheries, while at the same time providing much-needed support for fishing communities who are heavily reliant upon those stocks.
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