UW News

May 15, 2015

Washington Sea Grant’s Ed Melvin wins presidential award for seabird-saving streamer lines

Washington Sea Grant

A Washington Sea Grant staff scientist is sharing top honors for developing gear that nearly eliminates seabird bycatch in long-line fisheries from the West Coast to South Africa.

Streamer lines in use.

Streamer lines in use.Ed Melvin, Washington Sea Grant

Twenty years of work on sea and land to save threatened seabirds from becoming fishing bycatch have won national recognition for Washington Sea Grant’s senior fisheries scientist, Ed Melvin, also an affiliate associate professor in the UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. The research project he leads, which develops, tests and promotes bird-scaring streamer lines for long-line fishing vessels, this week received the 2015 Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award. It went to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Seabird Program, which funds some of Melvin’s research.

Melvin has designed a system using streamers to scare off seabirds that loiter around fishing vessels. The streamers are made of bright orange tubing and hang suspended above the bait lines from lines attached to the mast or other tallest point on a boat. (See a diagram of how streamers work)

Melvin, research scientist Troy Guy and other collaborators began by adapting the tori lines developed by Japanese fishermen in the 1980s to the conditions facing Pacific Coast long-line fleets. In 1999 they took this strategy to Alaska and proved that paired streamer lines can dramatically reduce, even eliminate, seabird bycatch.

In 2009 Melvin and team traveled farther afield to work with the Japanese tuna fleet off South Africa. After testing multiple streamer and weighted long-line combinations, they found a configuration that, together with setting baited lines at night, eliminated seabird bycatch with virtually no impact on crew labor or fish catches.

In 2012, the committee overseeing the international Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels endorsed these measures for all long-line tuna fisheries that encounter these birds. Three of four international tuna commissions adopted parts of them. The branchline design used was developed by fishing master Kazuhiro Yamazaki and won the World Wildlife Fund’s 2011 Smart Gear Award.

Melvin and Guy returned home to adapt what they’d learned in Alaska to the West Coast’s groundfish fleets, starting with tribal fisheries. Through exacting analysis of fishing and habitat ranges, they and their colleagues determined that the sablefish fishery overlapped most with, and thus presented the greatest threat to, the magnificent but endangered short-tailed albatross. Working closely with fishermen partners, they tested and refined their streamer lines for the complex range of boat sizes and gear configurations used on the West Coast.


PollockWashington Sea Grant, UW

Their findings led NOAA Fisheries to begin the process of requiring long-line boats 55 feet or longer to deploy streamer lines when they pursue West Coast groundfish; they’re now testing measures for smaller boats. NOAA provides the lines for free through select West Coast marine-supply dealers.

Washington Sea Grant shares the presidential award with NOAA’s West Coast Region and Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Oregon State University, California Sea Grant, Oregon Sea Grant, the Makah, Quinault, and Quileute tribes, and other agencies and industry groups. To read more, visit the Washington Sea Grant website.


For more information, contact Melvin at edmelvin@uw.edu and 206-543-9968 or MaryAnn Wagner, Washington Sea Grant communications, at maryannb@uw.edu and 206-616-6353.