NOAA testing ultraviolet lights as solution to seabird bycatch
NOAA Fisheries believes new ultraviolet-phased lighting technology could help keep seabirds away from fishing vessels, and the agency is embarking on a several-year research effort to see if it lives up to its promise.
Tempted by the bait used to lure in fish, seabirds have long been attracted to commercial fishing operations. Unfortunately, it typically isn’t the free meal that it appears to be, with the birds becoming hooked or entangled in the gear. NOAA Fisheries has been successful in reducing seabird interactions with some gear, but those measures do not deter the animals from approaching and colliding with the vessels.
Concerns over seabird bycatch are magnified by the presence of species protected by the Endangered Species Act, such as eider ducks and albatross, in Alaska’s commercial fisheries. In 2020, the agency reported that 22 spectacled eiders were killed after striking a commercial fishing vessel in the Bering Sea. Earlier that year, a Steller’s eider was killed after striking a commercial fishing vessel in the same area. Neither incident occurred during fishing operations. In July 2022, an observer reported 37 albatross takes over the course of nine days.
NOAA Fisheries is eager to prevent more deaths, and it is turning to emerging ultraviolet-phased lighting technology as a solution that promises to keep the endangered birds away from fishing vessels altogether.
“UV-phased lighting technology could be ideal to reduce or eliminate such interactions,” the agency said, noting that the technology “does not harm the retinas or visual systems of birds.”
The technology was developed by entrepreneur Don Ronning of Lite Enterprises, who has a patent for a system that deters animals using ultraviolet light. Ronning came up with the idea as a solution to prevent wildlife from approaching dangerous wind farms, and received a USD 150,000 (EUR 137,000) grant from the National Science Foundation to develop it, according to the Nashua Telegraph. In 2019, Ronning published a study in the SAE International Journal of Aerospace demonstrating that ultraviolet lights helped keep birds away from an aircraft. The system can elicit “avoidance responses” in birds up to 884 meters away during daylight, according to NOAA.
Recently, NOAA Fisheries announced it was looking for a contractor that could take Ronning, his equipment, and a NOAA-supplied observer out to Alaska waters for three days of trials.
“The results of these trials will be used in the development of a rigorous scientific research plan,” the government said in the announcement. “This contract is the first step in a several-year collaborative process working with industry to determine if this technology is effective and suitable to reduce seabird/fisheries interactions that result in seabird mortality and create issues for vessels.”
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Tarpan