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The new National Action Plan for protecting seabirds from commercial fishing hooks and nets has made a big leap forward, with a new goal of reducing seabird deaths to zero. However, Forest & Bird is warning that without cameras on boats the plan will not succeed. 

Up to 14,000 seabirds are estimated to die every year in New Zealand’s commercial trawl nets and on longline hooks. Ninety percent of New Zealand’s seabirds are threatened with extinction, and some like the hoiho/Yellow Eyed Penguin (nationally endangered), the Antipodean Albatross (nationally critical) and the Salvin’s Albatross (nationally critical), are in very serious trouble.  

“As well as a new goal of zero seabird deaths, increased transparency is a really important part of the new Action Plan.

The new Seabird Plan of Action requires fishers to have vessel plans to reduce seabird bycatch and report on their progress in line with the goal of zero seabird deaths. Every year the Government will have to report back to New Zealanders on progress with the Plan of Action. 

Forest & Bird spokesperson Sue Maturin, says “This is a big step forward for our fishing industry and our ocean birds, and is due to the perseverance of Forest & Bird supporters, who put the spotlight on an unrecognised seabird massacre. Over 3000 Forest & Bird supporters made submissions on the seabird regulations, and 10,000 signed our Zero Bycatch petition, which was delivered to the Ministers of Fishing and Conservation earlier this year.     

“Every year, the whole country will be able to put the government and fishing industry under scrutiny. Open and routine disclosure is a great improvement on the status quo where charities like Forest & Bird have been forced to rely on the Official Information Act to hold Government and industry accountable. 

But Forest & Bird says with the industry not providing reliable bycatch information, the lack of observer coverage of the fishing fleet is still a major gap in the plan to save New Zealand’s seabirds.  

“Up to 14,000 birds dying unnecessarily every year is an outrage, and now the fishing industry has a chance to show New Zealanders they can do what it takes to keep our precious wildlife safe from hooks and nets.  But this will only work with cameras on boats and more fisheries observers.”  

“Despite the legal obligation to do so, fishers don’t provide reliable data on what birds and other non-target species they catch. MPI and DOC instead rely on estimates based on the information collected by on-board observers. Only 12% of the fishing fleet carry observers at any one time, so is it now imperative the rollout of cameras begin, or this plan to save New Zealand’s seabirds will fail.”  

Data obtained by Forest & Bird using the OIA showed a massive discrepancy between the number of birds that fishers admit catching, and the MPI’s bycatch estimates based on observer data. 

  • For the bottom long line fisheries, reported bycatch over the past five years was 10-14% of estimated bycatch;  

  • For surface long line reported bycatch over the past five years was 13-36% of estimated bycatch and for trawling it is 45-54% of estimated bycatch. 

  •  There is limited data on set netting because there are so few observers but the bycatch rate reported by set netters is between 2 and 14% of the rate reported by observers on set net vessels 

  • 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.
  • There are so few observers on the set-net fishery that it’s not even possible to estimate bycatch.   

Sue Maturin adds, “We are really pleased with the mandatory compliance checks for all high seas vessels stopping in New Zealand ports. This is really important for our Antipodean albatrosses, which travel long distances across the Pacific, and are frequently killed by totally unregulated fishing practices on the high seas.” 

Resources 

Forest & Bird’s report: A Pathway to Zero Bycatch 

Images of alive seabirds and drowned seabirds 

Zero bycatch petition press release

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