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Minister calls commercial squid fishers to port

Minister calls commercial squid fishers back to port to save sea birds

In an unprecedented move the Minister of Fisheries is calling the bulk of New Zealand's squid fishing fleet back to port to prevent seabird deaths.

It is the first step in a package of measures David Benson-Pope is introducing to address a lack of commitment by the majority of industry to codes of practice designed to protect seabirds.

Mr Benson-Pope says that while voluntary codes have dramatically reduced seabird deaths in some fisheries, blatant bad behaviour, most notably in the squid fishery, demands immediate action. The package is also required because these same boats will in coming weeks be moving into other fisheries where there is potential for high seabird mortality.

The Minister has today directed the Ministry of Fisheries to place observers on all vessels known to be not following industry best practice. This is in effect the majority of the squid fleet that at its peak numbers 35 of the largest boats operating in New Zealand waters.

This measure will trigger the return of these vessels to port within five days to have an independent observer placed on board.

The package will also include a move to the mandatory use of equipment to scare sea birds away from vessels and the mandatory control of offal discharge, which attracts sea birds to vessels.

The Minister intends to achieve this change through the introduction of regulations falling under the current penalty regime, which includes fines of up to $100,000 for those who fail to comply. The Minister will consult with stakeholders on these regulations as soon as possible.

"We introduced voluntary codes because industry said they were willing to meaningfully co-operate in reducing the needless death of sea birds," said Mr Benson-Pope. "The squid fishing industry has had every opportunity to act responsibly and despite some good operators the majority have chosen not to. These measures are the inevitable consequence of their poor behaviour."

Mr Benson-Pope says he received evidence a fortnight ago of squid fishers failing to comply with the code of practice. He requested an immediate investigation by the Ministry of Fisheries and the Department of Conservation, which revealed that non-compliance had been alarmingly widespread: 46% of vessels did not use a back-of-boat mitigation device, with a further 8% using one intermittently; 30% of vessels discharged offal either during trawling or hauling of nets, with a further 26% doing so intermittently; Only 30% of vessels complied with both mitigation and offal management requirements, as set out in the code.

Mr Benson-Pope says the fishing industry is on notice: "I will be investigating other fisheries operating under voluntary codes to ensure those codes are working.

"Voluntary agreements can and are working when the industry shows true commitment and keeps to their word."

Since application of mitigation measures in the ling auto longline fishery death of seabirds has reduced by 75% and in the joint venture tuna fishery death of seabirds has reduced by 95%.

"Without that commitment from industry the government has no other recourse but to bring in regulation," said Mr Benson-Pope.

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