Hookpod diagram. Image: Dave Goad

The fishing industry around the globe is grappling with the issue of seabird bycatch in surface longline fisheries.   There are several solutions already in use and under development.

The Hookpod, designed by UK engineers Pete and Ben Kibel, in conjunction with Ben Sullivan of BirdLife International is being trialled in New Zealand waters.

The Hookpod is a device that the hook sits in until it is well below the surface and out of harm’s way.  It uses a spring and a piston within a sealed air chamber to release the hook at a safe depth. The pressure in the chamber increases with depth as it descends in the water, causing pressure on the piston to fire the device open.  Once open, the system is flooded with water and immune to pressure, meaning it can successfully be operated again after being at depth.

Over the last seven years, the team has worked with international fleets to find a design that eliminates seabird bycatch during setting without impact on either the target catch rate, the operations on board or the setting time of the lines.

Recently, trials have been undertaken in New Zealand with the support of the Department of Conservation (DOC), the Ministry for Primary Industries and Leigh Fisheries. The trial was funded through the Conservation Services Programme.

Owner of the FV Commission, Wayne Kusabs, has been involved with testing the pods, along with skipper Mike Te Pou.

Hookpods are a great invention and they are working well for us,” says Te Pou.

“At first I was a bit suspicious of them, thinking it could affect our catch, but after using them I’ve noticed that our fishing has not been affected in any way. On a few occasions the Hookpods actually out-fished our regular gear and caught more fish; whether this is a coincidence or not isn’t clear.

“Not one single bird has been caught on the pods so far from the tests we have run and we have caught the odd bird on our regular gear. Shooting and hauling is no different to how we do it with regular gear. It just takes the crew a few sets to get used to them.”

Trials are now in place to see how the pods perform over a longer time period in commercial operations, again on the FV Commission.

The first trip was with researcher Dave Goad on board. “It was great to be involved with the trials. The crew quickly got the hang of setting at normal speed with the pods, and flaking them into the bin at the haul. Pods are surprisingly robust and they slightly out-fished the vessel's normal gear. I think the best thing about them is that they give surface liners a new mitigation option,” says Goad.

- Becky Ingham, CEO Hookpod