Ministry fails on seabird by-catch

12 Jul 2011

By Forest & Bird's Sea-bird Advocate, Karen Baird 

The Ministry of Fisheries’ recently released draft seabird by-catch policy is a huge disappointment.

Wandering Albatross, Andrew Walmsley

Wandering Albatross, Andrew Walmsley

Ditching the current National Plan of Action for Seabirds in favour of the ill-conceived Seabird Policy will do nothing to reduce the huge seabird by-catch problem.

A report for the ministry suggests between 22,200 and 40,900 seabirds are killed annually in fisheries within New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ ).

BirdLife International’s Ben Sullivan who heads the BirdLife Global Seabird Programme, says as the signatory of a number of international agreements protecting seabirds, “New Zealand has an international responsibility to develop a National Plan of Action to reduce seabird by-catch in its fisheries”.

The risk assessment report for the Ministry of Fisheries estimates 21 of the 64 seabird species assessed are at risk from the level of incidental by-catch.

The most at risk species is the threatened endemic black petrel.

The average number of potential annual fishing-related fatalities is estimated to
be nearly 10 times higher than the level of human-induced deaths this species
can sustain without compromising its continued existence.

Northern royal albatross, classified by the IUCN as endangered, breeds mostly
in the Chathams but also at one of our best known natural visitor attractions – the Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head on Otago Peninsula.

The report estimates that between 169 and 590 northern royal albatrosses are killed annually by fishing-related activity.

Although some gains have been made in deep sea fishing through mandatory mitigation measures, in inshore fisheries mandatory mitigation is not required, observer coverage is low and potentially large numbers of albatrosses, petrels, king shags and spotted shags may be killed.

Some fishing methods are simply never going to be sustainable and will need to be made illegal. Squid trawling near the Auckland Islands not only directly kills New Zealand sea lions but also competes for their food and has contributed to a halving of pup numbers since 1998.

This squid fishery is also impacting the white-capped albatross population.

Fishing with squid jigs – a type of hooked lure – seems a much more sustainable method of fishing, with low risk to sea lions and seabirds.

Forest & Bird joined forces with BirdLife International to make a submission on
the policy and a group of concerned scientists wrote to the Minister of Fisheries.

An opinion piece appeared in the Dominion Post recently by Ben Sullivan of BirdLife International which criticised New Zealand for failing to meet its international obligations to protect seabirds.

We are now waiting for the Ministry of Fisheries to collate the submissions to its draft seabird policy. We want it to return to a National Plan of Action for Seabirds which includes measures to reduce seabird by-catch.

The risk assessment and other reports can be accessed at: