Author: A. Miletić

Research on the interaction of fishermen and birds was conducted to investigate the mutual impacts of fishermen and seabirds (with the emphasis on Audouin’s gull, Yelkouan and Scopoli’s shearwater). The aim of the research was to understand and evaluate negative impacts of fishing activities on shore and offshore bird populations and to define activities that will mitigate them.

It is known that fishing activities can directly and/or indirectly affect abundance of seabirds, but the exact extent of their abundance decline in the Croatian part of the Adriatic is not clear. Therefore, this research aimed to:

  1. gain insight into the scope of use of fishing gear with a potential impact on before mentioned seabirds,
  2. determine the scale of bycatch, or accidental catches of seabirds,
  3. identify the interest and technical possibilities to introduce fishing gear, equipment, or mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate bycatch of seabirds.

A survey of fishermen was conducted anonymously in the winter period, during which fishing activities were reduced, in Komiža (island of Vis; December 16-17, 2019), Vela Luka (island of Korčula; February 10-11, 2020) and on the island of Lastovo (February 11-12, 2020). These areas were recognized as locations inhabited by fishermen who use tools with the greatest potential of bycatch of seabirds, like longlines and gillnets and who fish within and along the borders of the two areas targeted by the project (SPA Lastovsko otočje and SPA Pučinski otoci).

The questionnaire was intended to gather information on the knowledge of fishermen about the project, their attitudes about seabirds, the frequency of fishing activities, places of possible encounters with seabirds and the amount of bycatch of seabirds. Additionally, through this questionnaire fishermen were asked to define their interest for the introduction of fishing gear for bycatch reduction.

Respondents are engaged in fishing for additional income, recreation or family tradition, love for the sea and boats, and it is a specific lifestyle of one part of the island’s population. The average duration of fishing activity of the respondents is 22 years, which indicates that fishing is a lifelong activity. Most of the surveyed fishermen perform fishing activity throughout the year, with the highest intensity during the summer months (June, July, August, September), and they fish mostly in zone C (broader area of the island of Vis), zone G (islands of Korčula, Lastovo) and zone D (southern waters of the island of Lastovo). The surveyed fishermen have permits for different fishing gear: for longlines, nets, traps, and hooks. Among their gear, longlines are dominant fishing tool and they mostly use demersal longlines.

The interaction between fishermen and seabirds usually takes place early in the morning when they clean fish, throw and lift longlines or nets. Survey results show that seabird bycatch is not entirely negligible, and most often occurs after throwing longlines into the sea, before the bait sinks or the bird gets entangled in the net. More than half of the respondents accidentally caught a bird at least once while fishing. Most of them are common shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii) and yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis), but seabird species of special importance for this project are also caught.

Most of the surveyed fishermen identified floating marine litter as a significant problem in the area where they conduct fishing activities.

As previously mentioned, this research wanted to assess the interest of fishermen to support measures to reduce the accidental catch of seabirds. The highest level of support among fishermen, between five offered mitigation measures to reduce accidental catches, were measures of using custom fishing gear and measures of putting additional lead on longlines.

Furthermore, a third of respondents said that they would participate in a pilot project to replace existing fishing gear with the same type of gear which prevents the accidental catch of seabirds. More than half of respondents would accept the possibility of boarding researchers specialized in bird watching on their vessels. It is a good sign of the openness and interest of fishermen in cooperating in scientific and professional activities. Survey results presentation and meetings about measures to reduce bycatch of seabirds with fishermen in Komiža, Vela Luka and island of Lastovo are currently ongoing.

Source: Institut društvenih znanosti Ivo Pilar (2020): Izvješće o opsegu uporabe ribolovnog alata s potencijalnim utjecajem na morske ptice, te o razmjeru slučajnog ulova morskih ptica u okviru projekta LIFE ARTINA – LIFE17 NAT/HR/000594 “Seabird Conservation Network in the Adriatic”. Zagreb