Plan aims to cut seabird deaths

After six months of deliberations, the Department  of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries  released their draft National Plan of Action (NPOA) for  seabirds last November. 

Albatrosses caught in commercial fishing lines.

Albatrosses caught in commercial fishing lines.

Public submissions have closed but the fi nal version is expected to be released before the middle of this year.

Forest & Bird Seabird Advocate Karen Baird was  part of the independently chaired group of experts and  stakeholders who developed the revised NPOA.

She is  relieved there is now a plan that can provide direction  on effectively reducing seabird by-catch in New Zealand,  and says it’s a “vast improvement” on the draft released  last year by the Ministry for Primary Industries, which was  rejected by stakeholders.

The plan aims to reduce the number of seabirds  accidentally caught by fi shers to negligible levels. Progress  had been made since the original 2008 plan but the revised  version takes account of the latest international best  practice guidelines developed by the United Nations Food  and Agriculture Organisation, and is tailored to fit the New  Zealand situation.

 “The National Plan of Action for seabirds will shape  government and fishing industry efforts to reduce New  Zealand’s very high seabird by-catch problem over the next five years. So it’s imperative that we get this right,”  said Karen.

One noticeable addition is the provision of a  NPOA Seabird Advisory Group to monitor and assist  implementing the plan. “This group will also be involved in  evaluating just how successful this new plan is,” said Karen.

Recent estimates suggest that up to 15,000 seabirds die each year in New Zealand waters after getting caught in fishing nets or on fishing hooks.

Meanwhile, an agreement from a December conference  in the Philippines is welcome news for the albatross species that raise their young in New Zealand. 

The resolution was passed at a meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) – which manages the fishing industry over much of the Pacific Ocean.

The agreement will mean longliners operating south of 30 degrees south, in areas where albatrosses are  known to feed, will have to adopt two of three techniques  to avoid albatrosses swallowing their hooks. 

Longliners typically set thousands of hooks a day on  lines that can be more than 100 kilometres long. Seabirds, especially albatrosses, often become caught as they try to take bait from the hooks, and are drowned as the line sinks.

Vessels will have to choose between using bird streamers, also known as tori lines, which scare birds off; adding weights to make hooks sink more quickly; or setting hooks at night, when most birds are less active.  

Scientists estimate that more than 300,000 seabirds are killed every year by longliners, and it’s believed this is the main reason that 17 of the world’s 22 species of albatrosses could soon become extinct.

“If implemented, this decision could reduce the number of albatrosses killed by 80 per cent,” said Karen Baird, who attended the Manila conference. “So this decision could make the difference between several species of albatross surviving, or disappearing forever,” she says.  

Half the world’s albatross species nest and raise their young in New Zealand. They spend the rest of their lives  at sea, which makes them vulnerable to fi shing. Six of the species that nest in New Zealand are now on the decline. If adopted, the WCPFC’s new rules will apply in New Zealand  waters – and the waters of all member countries – from July next year. 

Forest & Bird provided support and advice at the Manila