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Myth: Fishers do not care about the seabirds that follow their vessels looking for a free feed

Fact: No fisher wants to catch a seabird and most make a huge effort to avoid incidental captures. The fisheries that pose the greatest risk to seabirds have regulated measures in place to lessen the chance of catching birds. Most vessels use additional voluntary measures and many of these have been developed by fishers based on their extensive experience and observations of bird behaviour.

Myth: Fishers just ignore these rules

Fact: Fishers can and have been penalised if they do not implement the legal requirements to mitigate risk. Many vessels have Government observers on board to monitor seabird bycatch and the use of regulated mitigation measures.

In 2018, an industry initiative put cameras on board inshore bottom longline vessels to better understand the risks posed to black petrels. Fishers continue to be actively involved in this programme, and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is currently implementing cameras on more vessels to increase monitoring at sea.

Fishers are required to report the capture of any seabird.

Myth: Colourful steamers off the back of a vessel aren’t going to scare away birds

Fact: Tori lines are streamers hanging off a suspended line above the most high-risk areas: the baited hooks, and in the case of trawlers, above the warps. They scare birds away from areas of risk.

Tori linesare a simple design but very effective. According to the Department of Conservation (DOC), tori lines are “one of the most thoroughly tested seabird bycatch reduction measures available” and “have been proven effective in reducing seabird bycatch in both trawl and longline fisheries lines”.

Myth: So that’s it?

Fact: No.

Most vessels have operational plans that detail the measures used to reduce the risk to all protected species. Liaison Officers employed by the DOC visit vessels regularly to talk with skippers and crew, and ensure they are using the best mitigation measures for their specific operations. They also assist fishers to review their mitigation methods if a significant capture event occurs.

In the case of longline vessels, some will also use hook shielding devices (which enclose the hook in a pod and the hook is not released until the pod is below the diving level of birds); or set their lines at night when there are fewer birds around; or weight the hooks so they sink before the seabirds can reach the bait.

Crews also manage fish waste (offal) on board to avoid attracting seabirds to the vessel, and some dye the bait blue to make it harder for seabirds to see.

Vessels will also keep deck lighting low at night so as not to attract seabirds, especially at anchor; ensure crew are familiar with safe seabird handling and release; and minimise the time the fishing gear is near the surface of the water to avoid catching seabirds.

Myth: Our seabirds are at great risk from fishing

Fact: MPI has conducted a comprehensive risk assessment for 72 New Zealand seabird species. This assessment concludes that only one seabird species is at very high risk from fishing, with the remaining 71 having average estimated fatalities below that which the population can sustain and allow it to grow.

Myth: Fishers just don’t care about seabirds; they care about catching fish

Fact: Most skippers and crew are familiar with the birds they encounter at sea, and many can individually name the species. They are as upset as the public is if a bird is captured or killed. Many crew help DOC with seabird tagging, particularly for the endangered black petrel and attend workshops on how to be “seabird safe”.

The industry works closely with Southern Seabirds, a Charitable Trust, to educate fishers about the birds that breed in New Zealand waters and those that visit.

The industry is also the principal funder of research into seabird populations and mitigation of risks to seabirds.

For more information on seabird mitigation, risks, and research, the Aquatic environment and biodiversity annual review (AEBAR) – 2019/20, Chapter 8: Seabirds, is available for download from the Ministry for Primary Industries website.

To find out more about how our commercial fishers are working to reduce harm to New Zealand seabirds from fishing visit the Southern Seabirds Trust website.

Seabird image credit: Tamzin Henderson