27 May 2020

Plan to reduce death rate of seabirds launched

9:58 pm on 27 May 2020

The government has launched a new plan today aimed at preventing seabirds from harm or death due to commercial fishing.

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The National Plan of Action for Seabirds has the overall goal of "working toward zero fishing-related seabird deaths".

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said the plan would be guided by 11 measures, focused on avoiding bycatch, driving healthy seabird populations, continuing research efforts, and international fisheries.

"It's got very clear goals, very clear objectives, and it's supported by an implementation plan for reducing fishing-related deaths.

"So it should be really clear to the industry how we really need to step up what happens in practice on boats to reduce the thousands of birds that die every year."

The plan is a result of public consultation which ran late last year and attracted more than 3700 submissions.

Fishing industry groups at the time said they supported working towards a goal of zero bycatch but felt some level of bycatch was unavoidable.

Deepwater Group and Seafood NZ made a joint submission at the time, stating they were prepared to work collaboratively on "species of concern" like black petrels, Antipodean albatrosses and yellow-eyed penguins.

That approach did not find favour with Forest and Bird, which handed a petition to Parliament in February calling for zero bycatch of all animals.

Minister of Fisheries Stuart Nash said the plan "will support all fishing interests" to develop new bycatch mitigation practices and improve practices already in use.

"These include bird-scaring lines, weighted longlines, fishing at night, avoiding areas important to seabirds, and reducing discharge that attracts birds to fishing boats."

It requires all fishing vessels at risk of accidentally catching seabirds to create risk management plans for protected species.

Compliance will be monitored and regulations strengthened if needed.

"These plans will be audited and regularly monitored against government standards," Nash said.

New Zealand is a global centre of seabird diversity with more than 90 species breeding here and more endemic breeding species than any other country in the world.

Ninety percent of them are nationally threatened or at risk of extinction.

Sage said the plan included species-specific action, where there was particular concern about threats to seabird populations.

"This has occurred already for Antipodean albatross and black petrels and is being done for hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin)," she said.

Monitoring of Antipodean albatrosses has shown that if one parent is killed the chick doesn't reach maturity, she said.

"There was a catch of five [Antipodean albatrosses] in the last few months. We need to do more and it's the measures that the skippers and the boats put in place that have got the most impact in protecting seabirds."

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