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Protecting our ocean companions

Wednesday 12 October 2016

New Zealand is home for more than one third of the world’s seabird species. The seafood industry takes its responsibility to ensure they survive very seriously.

Over the past 14 years industry has been working with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Ministry for Primary Industries ( MPI) and the NGO sector through the Southern Seabird Solutions Trust.

As the Trust’s Convenor Janice Molloy says, on the face of it, it is an unlikely coalition; fishing industry leaders, government officials, conservationists, eco-tourism operators, scientists and researchers. Through this disparate group there has been a continued collective commitment to improving the conservation status of New Zealand’s seabirds.

Through the Trust a number of measures have been achieved that include workshops for fishers encouraging a “seabird smart” approach to fishing, hosting events with a focus on seabird mitigation and rewarding industry efforts in protecting seabirds.

Industry works with the trust on a wide range of projects around the country. For example, in the north the Black petrel/Taiko Working Group, that includes Moana (Aotearoa Fisheries), Sanford and Leigh Fisheries working together to protect the endangered black petrel.

The National Plan of Action (NPOA) - Seabirds 2013 that recognises New Zealand’s unique place in the world for seabirds and our desire to be at the leading edge of international seabird conservation has industry’s full and active support.

A wide-range of industry-led initiatives to prevent seabird capture have been developed including, for example, the requirement for surface long-line fishers to use tori lines (lines with bright streamers to scare the birds away), night fishing, extra weights added to the lines to drop them quickly out of birds’ reach, and dyed baits to confuse the birds.

Industry has also been involved with trials of on-board cameras to monitor and reduce seabird captures on longlines. The ability to collect better information on seabird interactions with fishing vessels will better inform management decisions that best protect seabirds.

A recent industry collaboration with DOC worked on the improvement of tori line materials and performance on small coastal long-liners. To ensure our members are well informed about seabird mitigation industry jointly funds, with DOC and MPI, seabird liaison officers for deep water and coastal fleets.

Fishing vessel owners are constantly looking for innovative ways to prevent catching seabirds while fishing. Late last year, for example, Sealord, as part of its refit of the deep water vessel, Ocean Dawn, fitted a new “bird baffler” to repel birds, and it is working. All of these measures that have involved considerable investment in time and money over the past decade are paying off.

The 2015 Ministry for the Environment Environment Aotearoa report shows the significant progress in reducing seabird capture, which estimated it had fallen by around 40 per cent since 2002.

Given that commitment, it is doubly disappointing when there is the odd case of a skipper failing to do the right thing. Such incidents are in the minority but they unfairly tar all those in the industry. That is why there is a common feeling that anyone convicted deserves whatever sanctions come their way.

The ultimate aim is to get to the point where we can say there are no seabird deaths as a result of fishing.

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