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Seabird protection measures announced

Hon Jim Anderton

Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity
Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Forestry
Associate Minister of Health
Associate Minister for Tertiary Education

Progressive Leader

21 February 2008 Media statement

Seabird protection measures announced

Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton today announced a suite of measures to protect seabirds from being accidentally caught when commercial vessels are fishing.

These are measures that will be put in place while longer term solutions to the problem of seabird bycatch in commercial fisheries are developed.

“No-one wants to see seabirds being hurt or killed,” Jim Anderton said.

“Some parts of the industry are doing excellent work in addressing the problem of seabird bycatch − I congratulate them on this and encourage them to keep this work going.

“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.”

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.

“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,” Jim 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. This is unacceptable and cannot continue.”

The measures that will be put in place will require longliners and trawlers to take steps to help avoid catching seabirds.

All deepwater trawlers are currently required to use devices behind their boats that will scare birds away from the heavy trawl cables, 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.

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.

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.

“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,” Jim Anderton said.

“I recognise that this will impose costs on the industry and technical difficulties for some fishers. However, taking no action means ongoing injuries and deaths for significant numbers of seabirds, something I am unwilling to accept.”

In developing these measures the government has brought together information from observer data, international research, Industry Codes of Practice, the expertise of individual fishers as well as from feedback received during the submission process.

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. I believe our seabirds need more protection now,” Jim Anderton said.

The requirement to retain offal and trimmings on board may affect some vessel’s stability and present a potential safety concern. In recognition of this, fishers can apply for an exemption to the requirement to retain offal on board, if the safety of their vessel is going to be compromised.

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 3 to 6 months and the requirement for longliners to retain offal will come into effect on 21 March.

The ability for surface longliners to set lines during the day provided they use weights will come into effect immediately to give fishers as much flexibility as possible. Surface longliners are currently required to set lines only at night.

Detailed information on the new measures can be found on the MFish website


* New Zealand is an important breeding ground for approximately eighty seabird species and has the greatest variety of albatross and petrel species in the world.

* Seabird species globally are facing a number of threats, both at the sites where they breed and while they are feeding at sea. One of the key threats is bycatch by commercial fishers, especially longline and trawl fishers.

* Across the whole of New Zealand’s EEZ, seabird deaths caused by trawl and longline vessels are estimated to be between 3,500 and 10,000 a year.

* Currently, regulated or voluntary seabird bycatch mitigation measures are in place for only a portion of the New Zealand fishing fleet, meaning that a significant number of vessels may not be deploying any effective mitigation measures. Some fisheries that are particularly high risk may have insufficient measures in place.

* Recent significant seabird bycatch by vessels in longline fisheries in the Kermadec and Chatham Island areas have highlighted the immediate and ongoing risk that fishing without mitigation measures can pose to threatened species of seabirds.

* A lack of regulated mitigation measures prevents government from taking action where vessels do not use mitigation measures and catch significant numbers of seabirds.


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