In this article, Shane Snow (QSIA Director) examines a proactive management of the inshore gill net fisheries by commercial operators use of acoustic “Pinger” technology to mitigate the potential interactions with some species of conservation interest (SOCI).
Overview: What are Pingers?
It should be noted that commercial fishers will use bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) to help minimize interactions with SOCI. It’s important to understand that it is impossible, in any commercial fishery around the world to achieve zero interactions with SOCI. It is this reality that environmental, non-government organisations (eNGOs) and anti-commercial fishing elements in Fisheries Queensland (FQ) and the State Government use to vilify and gaslight hard working commercial fishing families.
[Please note: One definition of “gaslighting” is as abusive behaviour, specifically when an abuser manipulates information in such a way as to make a victim question his or her sanity. Gaslighting intentionally makes someone doubt their memories or perception of reality.]
“Pingers” (a type of BRD) are low voltage electronic devices which, by emitting sounds of a certain frequency (e.g. 10 kHz), are meant to warn Porpoises, Dolphins and Dugongs of the potential danger posed by fishing nets. They are usually attached to nets at regular intervals, preventing these species from approaching them.
The Pingers pulsating tone is emitted at a range audible only to these conservation species, without scaring the target fish or affecting the fishermen’s catch. The main goal of bycatch-mitigation Pingers on nets is to highlight the nets, alerting marine mammals of their presence and location and hence reducing potential entanglements.
Some of us in the inshore gillnet fishery have for some time been lobbying a proactive approach to FQ for the use of Pingers to trial in the gillnet fishery. I personally, both as a QSIA Director and as an independent fisherman have had numerous meetings with FQ managers where the use of these devices for trial in our fishery has come up.
It defies belief that every time I have broached the subject of trialing Pingers with FQ managers that I have been “fobbed off’ with any and all excuses of getting these devises to fishermen for trial, I ask why?
The excuse that they don’t work can’t be used by FQ as they have been used in the Queensland shark control program (QSCP) since 1992. One would think that if they don’t work, they wouldn’t still be in use in this program some 28 years later.
There has been extensive research on these electronic devices. In the American west coast this has resulted in the reduction of interaction with Dolphins of between 4 and 12-fold. The extract below provides the impacts of Pingers.
‘Barlow and Cameron (2003) summarized the effect of 10 kHz Dukane Pingers from the Observer data set of the US west coast driftnet fishery. The report included one of the longest continuous monitored fisheries with Pinger use and is a world standard for Pinger application and assessment. The research determined that the reduction of bycatch of common dolphin and all dolphins were 12 and 4-fold, both significant effects’.
‘In 2008 to reinforce the success of the long term Pinger application in the fishery, NOAA regulations required fishery operator training with equipment and gear modifications for vessels participating in the California drift gillnet fishery targeting thresher shark and swordfish. Specifically, the regulations included minimum spacing distances for Pingers and a requirement to carry sufficient Pingers to deploy on the gillnets carried by the vessel’.
Source – Pinger research: Where Pingers have been successful in fisheries applications, Oceanwatch Australia, Oceanwatch Australia.
I ask again, why the resistance by FQ to assist the inshore gillnet fishery operators in obtaining Pingers for trial and study? In my observations as a professional fisherman for over 30 years, our industry has and still does come up against significant resistance from FQ for any proactive approaches to better our fisheries.
When pressed by FQ as to why I was lobbying for the use of Pingers to trial, some of the reasons that I gave include:
- If we can greatly change or influence the direction of these species (Dugongs and Dolphins) away from nets is it possible to work in Dugong protection areas (DPAs) and other closed areas again?
- If we can show that we are using Pingers and given that they have been working worldwide for the last 30 years or more that will go a long way to enhance and elevate our industries public profile and also lessen to a degree (hopefully) some of the unrealistic impositions from WTO requirements.
Let us explore that in more detail.
There has been significant research on a global basis using acoustic devices to mitigate the risk of potential interaction with SOCI. Fisheries Queensland would have access to an almost unlimited supply of detailed information on trials dating back for the last 30 years or more. Below is an extract about Pingers used in the net fishery in Poland that were purchased by WWF Australia (probably our biggest conservation adversary) as part of a project to avoid interaction with Porpoises in the sea water of the Wolin National Park.
‘The Pingers were purchased as part of the project entitled “The protection of marine mammals and birds and their habitats”, jointly implemented by the Prof. Krzysztof Skóra Marine Station of the University of Gdańsk’s Institute of Oceanography and WWF Poland. At present Pingers are the most effective, and at the same time the easiest, method to stop porpoises from dying after becoming trapped in fishing nets, which pose one of the main threats to these animals’.
‘Similar to bats, porpoises use echolocation. They send sound waves which, by bouncing off nearby objects, provide them with the necessary information regarding distance from objects as well as their size or shape. The synthetic and very thin modern net fibers do not reflect the sounds emitted by porpoises in a way in which they might bounce back in time and with an appropriate force. If the reflected echo is too weak, porpoises become entangled in nets and die as a result of a lack of oxygen’.
‘Using Pingers is a way of meeting the needs of the inshore fishing industry while protecting an endangered species. Fishermen who use Pingers help to create a positive image of their profession with the public and, while successfully carrying out their work, they also have a hand in saving great numbers of porpoises’.
‘Pingers are a very effective method of limiting the bycatch of the porpoise, which is critically endangered in the Baltic Sea. We are glad that fishermen are not indifferent to the fate of these beautiful mammals and are eager to become involved. Pingers bought as part of the project are waiting for those willing to take part and are available for free at the UG’s Marine Station in Hel. They can also be delivered to fishing centres, said Maria Jujka-Radziewicz, WWF Poland’s specialist for the protection of marine ecosystems’.
Source – Joint enterprise by WWF and UG’s Marine Station, University of Gdańsk’s Institute of Oceanography and WWF Poland, University of Gdansk
If these Pingers are good enough for a conservation group such as WWF Poland to purchase and supply to fishermen (for free) then why does FQ think they will not work in Queensland waters and will not help our industry with this? It defies belief.
The Oceanwatch report I quoted earlier makes the case for their use and so calling the shots regarding the ongoing resistance to the use of Pingers – eNGOs / the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority / researchers guided by green politics rather than data? The report notes:
‘The acoustic devices have been constructed, and selected, as they offer the world’s best practice for marine mammal warning and interaction reduction. The signal sound level is a balance between detection capability at short range and transmission loss of the signal in high noise environments, particularly inshore waters. The signal frequency is a balance between detection capability and behavioural reaction of mammals not experienced to extreme human noise exposure events’.
‘International experience with Pinger deployment is statistically demonstrating clear bycatch reduction while they are becoming mandatory in most US and European fisheries. Opposition to Pinger use, and reasons behind them, are rapidly dissipating except from pockets of resistance in Australia. Those arguments should be investigated by fishery operators and introductory literature is provided for operators to consider the effectiveness of Pinger deployment for themselves’.
So, once again I ask, you the reader. Why does FQ have such a reluctance to assist our fishers and our industry when we ask for help to implement proactive approaches that are a “win-win” for everyone? This is just one example from many where FQ have ignored our calls for help.
Blatant, toxic, arrogant mismanagement is a polite way to describe it. Fisheries Queensland, you have dropped the ball, you have lost the confidence and respect of industry and our professional fishers. We need to get back to ‘grass roots” fishers’ expertise and advice. There needs to be a complete overhaul of senior fisheries management. We need a team of fisheries managers that respect, acknowledge and heed our many hundreds of years of collective experience. The time is now people, the push back will only come from us, let FQ hear our voices in this election year.
Author: Author: Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA), Shane Snow, QSIA Director.
Image: Shane Snow
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