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Seabird deaths backgrounder

6 May 2005 - Wellington

Seabird deaths backgrounder

What has just happened?

The Minister of Fisheries, David Benson-Pope has today directed the Ministry of Fisheries to place observers on all squid fishing vessels known to be not taking adequate measures to reduce seabird by-catch. 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.

The bulk of New Zealand's squid fishing fleet will have to return to port to pick up the observers.

According to the Minister's media release, 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.

Why was this action necessary?

The majority of squid fishing vessels were found to not be using the measures that significantly reduce the number of seabirds that are killed during fishing, in spite of agreeing to do so. They were found as a result of surveillance by a New Zealand Airforce Orion.

Is the squid fishery environmentally friendly?

The squid fishery kills more than 600 [check Barry] seabirds annually. Since 1980, the fishery has also killed over 2000 threatened New Zealand sea lions and over 2000 New Zealand fur seals. Bottom trawling by the squid fishery also causes damage to the sea floor. The impact on other marine life of taking huge volumes of squid out of the food chain is unknown.

What is the National Plan of Action?

The National Plan of Action to Reduce the Incidental Catch of Seabirds in New Zealand Fisheries was announced in April 2004 and aims to address the serious decline in seabird populations (including albatross) that results from commercial fishing in New Zealand waters.

The key part of the National Plan of Action was voluntary action by fishers through codes of practice that aim to reduce the number of seabirds killed as a result of commercial fishing. In addition there were a range of alternative measures that officials were to consider and a number of these had set time tables.

The Government reserved powers in the National Plan of Action to make mitigation measures mandatory if progress was inadequate.

How many seabirds are killed by fishing in New Zealand?

Over 10,000 seabirds are estimated to be killed in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone every year as a result of commercial fishing. Precise numbers are unknown because most commercial fishing vessels do not have independent observers.

Why is New Zealand called the albatross capital of the World?

New Zealand is called the albatross capital of the World because 14 out of the World's 21 albatross species breed within New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone. Most are globally threatened with extinction.

What are the problems with the National Plan of Action?

The National Plan of Action has relied too heavily on voluntary measures and does not require mitigation measures that have been proven to work in the Southern Ocean and in the Falklands and South Georgia fisheries.

All of the deadlines in the National Plan of Action's timetable have been missed. This brings the entire process into disrepute, undermines New Zealand's international reputation and will prolong the unnecessary slaughter of seabirds.

While New Zealand has internationally championed the new Agreement for the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels which entered into force in November 2004, as a country, we have failed to make the changes needed to protect albatross and other seabirds at home.

What are the deadlines that have been missed?

There are a series of deadlines that relate to the establishment of codes of practice to reduce seabird by-catch in commercial fishing operations. Further deadlines relate to the adoption of compulsory use of tori lines, new legislation, economic instruments and issues relating to customary fishing.

Which fisheries were the codes of practice meant to cover?

The initial codes of practice were divided into two industry groups:

* Group One codes include: ling autoline, joint venture tuna, hoki trawl, and squid trawl fisheries; and * Group Two codes include: ling longline, bluenose longline, snapper longline, scampi trawl and domestic tuna fisheries.

What progress has been made?

Group One codes

Group One codes were supposed to be implemented by 1 October 2004. So far only the chartered (joint venture) tuna code of practice has been approved, several months late, by the officials working group. This code covers 5 or 6 vessels.

While three other draft Group One codes have been proposed they have not been approved by the officials group and as of last month the officials had not received a response from the industry groups to their concerns. These draft codes have inadequate targets and timetables for action to reduce seabird bycatch.

Group Two codes

A report on progress on developing Group Two codes was supposed to be reported to the Technical Working Group by October 2004. There was no report. No Group Two codes of practice have been approved. Last week a meeting to discuss Group Two codes was cancelled because there were no codes to discuss. These codes were supposed to be developed and approved by 30 March for implementation by 30 June.

The additional deadlines

The National Plan of Action also set out timetables for taking additional action. These included:

* Detailed proposals on the mandatory use of tori lines in all longline fisheries prior to a final decision by 30 September 2004. * Options for using economic instruments by 20 December 2004; * Options for amending legislation to enable action against individual vessels by 20 December 2004; * Discussion with iwi on information on the impact of customary fisheries on seabird and development of proposals by 20 December 2004.

Again, none of these dates have been met. There are still no discussion papers on tori lines, use of economic instruments, options for amending legislation or the management of customary fisheries.

What can the Government do?

The National Plan of Action gives the Minister's of Fisheries and Conservation the authority to take action to make codes of practice mandatory.

The Plan of Action says:

The implementation of codes of practice and their contents will be made mandatory under the Fisheries Act in any of the following circumstances:

* there is inadequate sign-up to the code by fishers within the specified timeframe; or * the measures adopted by fishers in voluntary codes are inadequate to achieve the goals and objectives of the NPOA; or * following the five-yearly review of the effectiveness of the NPOA, voluntary codes of practice are determined to be ineffective in achieving the goals and objectives of the NPOA.

As there are no codes and as the draft codes are inadequate, the Ministers can now intervene to establish mandatory codes of practice.

Would mandatory codes of practice work?

New Zealand boats fishing in Antarctic waters have to comply with mandatory codes of practice to reduce the deaths of seabirds from long-line fishing. Even the Falkland Islands and South Georgia have managed to reduce seabird bycatch by over 90% through the use of compulsory measures.

Japanese tuna boats have 100% observer coverage and strict mitigation requirements. This has reduced seabird by-kill from 4,000 birds per year to under 20 individual birds. These requirements still do not apply to New Zealand boats. A New Zealand tuna fishing boat caught 300 seabirds in a single month.

What measures should mandatory codes of practice contain?

The measures are remarkably straightforward and New Zealand boats fishing in Antarctic waters already use them. The measures that reduce by-catch are:

* Fishers should not discharge offal from fish processing. The smell of offal is like a massive neon sign flashing "takeaways" and attracts albatross and petrels from huge distances downwind.

* Bird scaring streamers, called 'tori' lines, help to keep albatross and petrels away from the hooks during line setting and can also be used by trawlers.

* Thawed (rather than still-frozen) baits don't float on the surface before being pulled under by the main line and so birds don't get caught.

* Fishing at night, when most albatross are less active, reduces the numbers of birds that are caught. However this is not as effective for petrels, which also feed at night.

* Weighting the lines, which means that the baits sink more rapidly - quickly pulls the baited hooks below the birds' reach.

* Two observers on board ensures that these techniques are used and enable any seabird deaths are recorded.

ENDS

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