Fishing impacts on seabirds

 New Zealand has the greatest variety of albatross, petrel, penguin and shag species in the world. 

Seabirds will often swarm around fishing vessels diving for baits, or grabbing fish from nets.

Seabirds will often swarm around fishing vessels diving for baits, or grabbing fish from nets.

In recent years, there has been a major effort to eliminate predators on off-shore islands and the mainland to help these species to survive.

Now the major threat to our albatrosses and petrels is fishing. 

Our seabird species breed at different times of the year and they often come into conflict with commercial and recreational fishing vessels when looking for an easy meal. 

They can become tangled when they dive for baits on hooks or grab fish caught in nets. They can also be killed when they fly into warp lines holding the fishing nets in the water. 

Recreational Fishers and Seabirds

New Zealanders love to go fishing. Millions of hours (4.8 million hours in the Auckland region alone) can be attributed to people fishing from their boats and from the shore along our extensive coastline. The growing popularity and sheer numbers of recreational fishers, particularly in the Hauraki Gulf region, is likely to have a cumulative impact on seabirds.

Many assume that recreational fishers rarely catch seabirds. However, a survey of fishermen at boat ramps in 2008 found that 47% of recreational fishers recalled having seen a bird being caught, while a report from Dragonfly Science shows there are 30 interactions between seabirds and recreational fishers each day.

While most birds (77%) are released unharmed, certain species are so threatened that even the death of a single bird really does matter, especially when it's an adult that can't return to feed its chick.

The future of some populations are delayed as the remaining parents find another partner. They won't breed again until at least the next season and many of our threatened seabirds such as black petrel only lay one egg a season..

New Zealand plays host to 86 seabird species, with 11 listed as Nationally Critical, seven Nationally Endangered and 10 Nationally Vulnerable. Indeed, many of our seabirds are equally or more threatened as our more familiar ‘land’ birds.

Want to avoid catching seabirds while you're out fishing?

Download and keep a copy of this handy guide on your boat. It shows Seabirds of the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty region and also includes useful tips on how to avoid catching seabirds, and what to do if you do.

You can also play the video below by the presenters of fishing programme Big Angry Fish which shows how to avoid catching seabirds when you're out fishing.

VIDEO: Saving Albatrosses - How to Reduce Fishing Bycatch



FACT SHEET: Taiko (Black Petrel)

Click to enlarge

Recent seabird risk assessments undertaken by Ministry of Primary Industries show that at least 19 species of seabirds are at risk from fishing activities (see table below for more details). 

  Seabird Species 
Very High Risk   Black petrel, Salvin’s albatross, Flesh-footed shearwater, Southern Buller’s Albatross, Chatham Island albatross, and NZ white-capped albatross 
High Risk Northern Buller’s albatross, Gibson’s albatross, Cape petrel and Antipodean albatross
Moderate Risk Campbell black- browed albatross, mainland yellow-eyed penguin and grey petrel

What is Forest & Bird doing? 

We're working alongside Southern Seabird Solutions to educate people about New Zealand's seabird species and how to protect them from being caught as by-catch in recreational and commercial fishing.

We worked with the Ministry of Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation to ensure that the fishing industry develops best-practise guidelines under the National Plan of Action - Seabirds 2013.

We're also working with MPI to ensure that management plans which are produced for each fishery give adequate protection to seabirds. We will also contribute to monitoring the effectiveness of the  this 5 year action plan. 

We work directly with the fishing industry and recreational fishing groups to find solutions to seabird bycatch.

Forest & Bird works with Birdlife International in international fisheries forums, such as tuna commissions to require appropriate mitigation measures, such as bird scaring lines on tuna boats.