Recent deaths of threatened seabirds killed by a longline fishing vessel in the Bay of Plenty is highlighting the need for more to be done to avoid seabird bycatch.
Five Antipodean albatrosses and one Gibson’s albatross were killed when they were caught by a longline fishing vessel in the Bay of Plenty region between December 2 2018 and January 4 2019.
Both species are classed as ‘nationally critical’ – the most serious category for threatened species.
Two black petrels, which are ‘nationally vulnerable’, and one Buller’s albatross were also killed.
The deaths were recorded by a Fisheries New Zealand observer.
“Antipodean and Gibson’s albatrosses are as endangered as kākāpō. We must do all that we can to protect them,” says Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.
“In the 2016/17 year an estimated 579 seabirds were captured in surface longlines and 1846 in bottom longlines.”
The most commonly caught species were white chinned petrel, sooty shearwater and New Zealand white capped albatross.
In November 2018, the New Zealand Government signed an arrangement with the Chilean Government, as part of efforts to reduce seabird bycatch in international waters between Chile and New Zealand, yet New Zealand’s fishing operations are continuing to kill our most endangered seabirds, says Eugenie.
“These bycatch deaths occurred even though the fisher was operating within the existing fisheries regulations for reducing bycatch. The fishing industry needs to go over and above minimum requirements, and demonstrate leadership.
“In surface longline fisheries this leadership could include using innovations such as hook-shielding devices to cover the point and barb of the hook when longlines are set so seabirds cannot be hooked and drowned.
“Existing measures to reduce the risk to seabirds include weighting lines so they sink faster, setting them at night, and using bird scaring lines. Using all three together is international best practice but is obviously not enough.
“Fishers can also look at ways to change their operations including by avoiding fishing in areas, or at times of the year, where there’s a high risk of bycatch.”
Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash is concerned at the reports of seabird deaths.
“It’s distressing to hear of the capture of highly vulnerable seabirds in this fishery over the summer period.
“I appreciate that the fishing vessel was operating within the rules. I acknowledge too that the skipper took further steps to mitigate risks of further captures by relocating to another area. However in this case it’s clear that was not enough to prevent these seabird casualties.
“I want to see the industry stepping up with more innovative techniques and methods, and to look at other measures to reduce bycatch. It is good to see the fishing industry has taken steps to do better, but more needs to be done.
“Fisheries New Zealand and Department of Conservation (DOC) officials are working on updating the National Plan of Action to reduce the incidental capture of seabirds. Public consultation will start soon.”
Eugenie says additional Government funding for conservation, announced as part of Budget 2018, is being used to develop tools and techniques to reduce bycatch and expand the support available to fishers to improve their fishing practices through the Conservation Services Programme.
The programme is focused on the bycatch problem, is managed by DOC and is primarily funded by fishing levies.