Hookpod: the best conservation initiative you may not have heard of

Invented by conservationists in collaboration with commercial fishermen, a new device is helping longline fishing vessels to be safer for seabirds.

What is longline fishing and how does it endanger seabirds?

Longline fishing is a commercial activity that involves catching fish such as tuna and swordfish using very long lines of baited hooks. A single vessel may use a line extending 130 km, from which could hang up to 10,000 hooks, each baited with a piece of fish or squid.

It isn’t just tuna and swordfish that are attracted to these baited hooks. Seabirds like albatrosses, shearwaters and petrels also love to eat fish and squid. Unfortunately, sharp fish hooks and hungry beaks don’t mix.

Before they sink, baited hooks are still visible near the surface of the sea. Floating bait can look very tempting to foraging birds, who will swoop down and try to grab the bait before it sinks; these birds can become hooked, dragged under the water and drown. Some species of birds, like petrels, will also dive to retrieve bait and can become tangled or caught on the hooks.

The fate of our albatrosses and petrels

Each year, around 300,000 seabirds are accidentally killed by the fishing industry, including an estimated 100,000 of our largest seabird – the magnificent albatross. A shocking 15 out of 22 albatross species are vulnerable or on the brink of extinction, and pelagic longline fishing is one of the biggest threats to their survival. Given that albatrosses can take up to 10 years to reach breeding age and tend to mate and incubate just once every two years, the death of an adult albatross can be a crucial loss to the population.

Becoming bycatch is a very real risk for many of our seabirds. Though measures are being taken by some fisheries to try and mitigate the amount of birds that are killed in this way, there remains a need for a sustainable, economical solution that works for both parties.

That’s where Hookpod comes in.

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What is a Hookpod?

Developed by conservationists in collaboration with the commercial fishing industry over a period of seven years, Hookpod is a revolutionary device that works to reduce the number of seabirds killed by longline fishing to near zero. In fact, recent studies have shown that fishing lines equipped with Hookpod devices have bycatch rates of only 0.04 birds per 1000 hooks, twenty times less than are caught on lines without Hookpods.

Hookpod works with existing longline fishing equipment by enclosing the point and barb of the fishing hooks as they enter the water. This means that birds cannot become caught and dragged under the water. In 2016 Hookpod was recommended by the ACAP (Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels) Advisory Committee as the best practice mitigation measure for longline fleets.

How does the Hookpod work?

The Hookpod is designed with a durable outer casing made from a polycarbonate material resistant to UV and damage by seawater. The hinges and springs are also made from marine grade stainless steel, meaning the device should last for at least three years under typical fishing conditions. This casing shrouds the hook while the line is cast out and continues to cover the point and barb until the bait and line are much deeper in the water.
To achieve this, the Hookpod has a pressure mechanism which opens on reaching 10 – 15 metres – a depth ideal for catching target fish, but one which is beyond the normal diving depth of most seabirds, most notably albatrosses. Once the Hookpod reaches this depth, the baited hook is released and a small integrated LED light works to attract fish. When the fishing is over, the Hookpods are pulled back on board with the rest of the equipment, closed up and stored in standard fishing bins ready to be used again.

Crucially, studies have shown that the volume of fish caught is not affected by the Hookpod. It simply makes longline fishing much safer for seabirds.

But what’s in it for commercial fishermen?

Ultimately, fishermen are out to catch fish, not birds! Disentangling seabirds and other bycatch wastes time, money and equipment. As proved in recent studies, Hookpod drastically reduces and even eliminates bycatch without any detrimental effect to the number of fish caught.

 Though some fishing vessels do currently use other methods to lessen the number of seabirds accidentally caught – to varying degrees of success – the use of these methods is not enforced universally. Hookpod is designed to be an attractive option to fishermen in the hope that they will actively want to use it; a device that not only helps to preserve the environment they rely on for their livelihood, but also saves them time, money and waste.

Marine pollution is a huge issue for our environment; Hookpod can also help to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in our oceans. Chemical light sticks are often used by fishing vessels to attract target fish. These plastic sticks are single-use, expensive and often disposed of in the ocean. One of the Hookpod models includes an LED light, negating the need for disposable chemical light sticks – batteries only need to be replaced every 400 hours and cost less than $0.10 per light. By comparison, the average fishery using chemical lights spends around $15,000 – $20,000 on chemical light sticks per year, making the Hookpod not only environmentally friendly but also economical.

How can you help?

The creators of Hookpod want to be able to save more of our vulnerable and endangered seabirds. To do this, they need help in spreading the word about Hookpod to the fishing industry, and they need to secure funding to equip more fishing vessels so they can show fishermen around the world that Hookpod is a real solution to mitigating bycatch that can save them money, time and hassle.

Hookpod are running a Kickstarter starting this April, are looking to raise money to equip 5 fishing vessels in Brazil with Hookpod devices. These boats will help encourage others to use the Hookpods and generate more important research data, whilst actively saving seabirds. There are some fantastic pledge prizes starting from just £5 – take a look here: https://kck.st/2Ih68OP 

For more information, visit: www.hookpod.com or follow Hookpod on Twitter – @Hookpod

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