"No one wants to see seabirds being hurt or killed," said New Zealand Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton. "The government is committed to working with the fishing industry and other stakeholders to solve the problem of seabird bycatch and to improve the environmental performance of our fishing fleet."
Between 2,000 and 10,000 seabirds are killed annually in the New Zealand trawl and longline fisheries. Of these, an estimated 900 to 1,500 are albatrosses, the most threatened family of birds in the world according to the IUCN-World Conservation Union Red List of Threatened Species.
More than half of the world’s albatrosses are found in New Zealand, and all of those breeding in New Zealand waters are listed as threatened.
Seabirds such as albatrosses and petrels are attracted to fishing vessels by the bait that is put on longlines and also by the offal and fish trimmings that are discharged from the vessels when they process their catch.
The birds can dive down under the water and take longline baits, become hooked and drown, or can be distracted by feeding on offal discharge and get hit by the heavy steel cables that tow trawl nets.
A Critically Endangered Chatham albatross killed by a longliner's hook. September 2007. (Photo courtesy Forest & Bird)
Albatrosses are the key species caught as by-catch in New Zealand deepwater trawl fisheries for squid and hoki, with around half of the by-catch in these fisheries being albatrosses.
"While some parts of the industry are working hard to develop solutions, other parts have done little or nothing and continue to kill large numbers of seabirds," Anderton said.
"I have been frustrated by recent incidents where vessels ignored voluntary codes of practice, did not take any precautions and killed significant numbers of threatened and endangered albatrosses," the minister said. "This is unacceptable and cannot continue."
Scientific observers recorded 31 species of seabird caught in trawl and longline fishing from 1998-2004. Eighteen of these species are listed as threatened with extinction.
All deepwater trawlers are currently required to use devices behind their boats that will scare birds away from the heavy trawl cables, and Anderton says this will continue.
All trawlers, both inshore and offshore, will only be allowed to discharge offal and fish trimmings at certain times when there is less chance of birds becoming distracted by feeding on the offal and being hit by the cables.
In addition, longliners that process their catch at sea will only be allowed to discharge offal and fish trimmings at certain times to avoid attracting birds to where baited hooks are being set.
All longliners will be required to use streamer lines that scare birds away from the baited hooks. They will also have to either weight their lines so they sink quickly, or set lines only at night so there is less chance of birds diving for the bait and becoming hooked.
Albatrosses flock around a fishing vessel dumping fish waste overboard in the Tasman Sea. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
"These are simple measures, proven to be effective in comparable overseas fisheries. They will ensure that there is an effective minimum level of mitigation in place without imposing excessive costs on the industry," Anderton said.
In developing these measures the government brought together information from observer data, international research, Industry Codes of Practice, the expertise of individual fishers as well as feedback received during the drafting process.
New Zealand's largest bird conservation organization is pleased with the new temporary measures.
The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society says these are the same measures considered to be most effective in a worldwide review of seabird by-catch they conducted with BirdLife International.
Forest and Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell says the measures put in place a comprehensive minimum set of requirements for all trawl and longline fisheries which bring them closer to best practice used in fisheries internationally.
"The introduction of these measures will lead to significant reductions in fishing mortalities of vulnerable seabird species," Hackwell said.
"By implementing a comprehensive set of regulations, the minister is creating the ability to enforce these good practices across the entire fishing fleet, and requiring poor fishers to improve their environmental practice."
Anderton says the government is sensitive to the problems of poor fishers but believes that the new measures are necessary.
"I recognize that this will impose costs on the industry and technical difficulties for some fishers," he said. "However, taking no action means ongoing injuries and deaths for significant numbers of seabirds, something I am unwilling to accept."
In order to allow time for the industry to make the necessary modifications and arrangements, the requirement for trawlers to retain offal will be deferred for three to six months and the requirement for longliners to retain offal will come into effect on March 21.
The government is currently consulting on an updated National Plan of Action for Seabirds and a draft seabird standard. This will put in place a long-term framework for managing the problem of seabird bycatch that could result in more mandatory mitigation measures being put in place.
"This regime is likely to involve measures tailored for each individual fishing vessel. However, this will take a long time to achieve," Anderton said. "I believe our seabirds need more protection now."
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