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Commercial long-line fishers appear to be failing to report bycatch the vast majority of the time, says Forest & Bird. The organisation says an official report shows fishers catching migratory species like tuna are nine times more likely to report catching seabirds if there is a government observer on board. 

"This is why the rules for protecting our ocean animals need to be improved to include cameras or observers on all fishing boats. These numbers tell us that vast numbers of seabirds and other animals are dying without ever being reported," says Forest & Bird Spokesperson Geoff Keey.

The Annual Review Report For Highly Migratory Species Fisheries 2018/19 (Pg 4, Table 4) showed only 4% of commercial long lining trips for tuna and swordfish reported non-fish bycatch such as seabirds when there was no observer, but this jumped to 37% when there were Government observers on board.  

“It’s simply unbelievable that a commercial fishing trip is nine times more likely to catch seabirds when there’s an observer on board,” says Mr Keey. 

“The only reasonable conclusion is that on trips without observers fishers are breaching their legal obligation to honestly and accurately report bycatch,” says Mr Keey. It is not an offence to kill seabirds while fishing but it is an offence to fail to report catching them.  

Forest & Bird has previously highlighted similar evidence of misreporting in fisheries that catch penguins. Industry log-books are so unreliable that the Government has to independently estimate the numbers of seabirds, marine mammals and turtles that are caught by the fishing industry every year. 

“The fishers who misreport bycatch are destroying the credibility of the entire industry.  It appears widespread, it’s been going on for years and this is the year it has to stop.” 

Forest & Bird has declared 2020 the year of the seabird, saying this is the year New Zealanders have a chance to turn things around for struggling native seabirds like albatrosses, and penguins.   

Submissions are open on a draft National Plan of Action for Seabirds until 27 January, and Forest & Bird is asking people to demand better fishing rules online here.   

“Fishing is the key factor in the seabird crisis that we can fix.That’s why Forest & Bird are asking for a zero bycatch goal, cameras on commercial boats, binding actions and rules and an end to set netting in the habitat of threatened species such as hoiho.”  

The Fisheries New Zealand report is for the 2017/18 fishing year, the most recent year with available data.  Long-liners catch fish by rolling out lines of the back of the boat that can be kilometres long with 1000s of hooks. They are used to catch highly migratory fish like tuna and swordfish.  

A range of seabirds including critically-endangered seabirds are caught, including Antipodean and Gibson albatrosses, and occasionally Northern Royal albatrosses, the albatrosses people see at the Dunedin albatross colony.

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