The reliable, inexpensive and accessible Hookpod device is the brainchild of Birdlife International’s Ben Sullivan, and brothers Pete and Ben Kibel, and is designed to reduce seabird casualties from longline fishing, a practice that has contributed to 15 of the world’s 22 species of albatross being threatened with extinction. During its ten years of development the Hookpod underwent several incarnations before reaching the Mark Vl version that is expected to be commercially available in mid-2015.
“I’ve been working on the bycatch issue for several years, and have always thought the most reliable way to solve the problem of seabirds dying from grabbing hooks before they sink, and drowning as they are dragged underwater, would be a simple device with a pressure release mechanism,” Sullivan, who has returned to live in Tasmania to coordinate Birdlife’s marine work after spending the last ten years based in the UK, said.
Turning the concept into reality however was the result of discussions held in 2005 with the Kibel brothers, one of whom is an engineer. The final version is the result of ‘years of trials, discussions, input from fishermen and extensive engineering’, according to the fledgling Hookpod Limited’s web page.
“It’s designed for pelagic longliners, the fisheries that target swordfish and tuna. Some of these lines can be 80-100 km long, and they can have 3000 hooks so we had to come up with a device that was cheap, really reliable, able to fit in with fishing operations, and safe for fishermen to use on high seas and coastal waters”, Sullivan said.
While reducing albatross deaths from bycatch was the motivation behind designing the Hookpod, Sullivan said the device is expected to also save other seabirds, and possibly turtles, although no data has yet been collected to confirm anecdotal evidence that suggests these, and other marine life, will also benefit from its use.
“Albatross are the iconic flagship species and I started with Birdlife International’s Save the Albatross Campaign, but obviously we’re just as interested in all the seabirds being killed in fisheries as well,” he said.
An important aspect of the Hookpod is the inclusion in its design of a battery operated LED light that will eliminate the use of the single-use, disposable chemical light sticks fishermen currently employ to attract baitfish.
“One of the problems with chemical light sticks is they’re disposable, and it’s estimated that at any one time there are millions of these sticks in the world’s oceans. We wanted to develop a device that can save seabirds, but can also be reused. The Hookpod gives fishermen light and seabird mitigation, all in one device, and it also reduces marine debris, so if fishermen use the pod there’s no need to use the chemical light sticks, so over time it becomes a cheaper alternative for them,” Sullivan said.
Although a few people were willing to invest a small amount of money to start commercial production of the Hookpod, funding has principally been raised through the UK’s crowd sourcing program, Kickstarter. Sullivan said it was an interesting learning experience to realise the power of social media.
“Someone who works with us suggested we look at crowd sourcing, which I was aware of but knew nothing about. It was hugely successful as it just went viral. I didn’t think we’d get anywhere near, but four days after reaching £55,000 we’d raised more than our target of £100,000!”
From a technical perspective Sullivan said the team believed the Hookpod is now commercially sound, but until fisheries and governments around the world appreciate its value, and approve its use as an effective, safe and simple alternative for commercial fishermen to use then it is “just a very clever idea that doesn’t actually save anything”.
Initial trials for its widespread use are planned to begin in either Australia or New Zealand, in order to establish a good reputation for the product before approaching other fisheries around the world.