Conservation plan set out to reduce seabird bycatch

By Kate Shuttleworth

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy. Photo / APN
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy. Photo / APN

Conservation groups say a new plan to protect 15,000 seabirds dying as bycatch of fishing vessels within New Zealand's exclusive economic zone was a positive first step.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy released the five-year plan today, which sets out a framework to reducing seabird bycatch in the zone that extends 200 nautical miles from the entire coastline.

The Ministry for Primary Industries have been working on the plan with a stakeholders committee including Forest & Bird and representatives of the fishing industry.

Over five years, the numbers of seabirds caught in nets, or killed by the steel cables that hold the nets will be prevented, monitored and managed according to the plan.

The national plan of action aims to:

- Reduce capture rates through continuous improvement in all New Zealand fisheries

- Ensure effective prevention methods are applied in all New Zealand fisheries and by New Zealand vessels on the high seas

- Helping develop new mitigation measures

- Develop new research, observation and monitoring techniques

- Cooperating with other countries whose vessels interact with seabirds, particularly those that breed in New Zealand.

Forest & Bird advocate Karen Baird said there were six species considered to be at very high risk from fishing activity, including the black petrel and the flesh-footed shearwater.

She said it was positive the ministry had decided to create a species-specific action plan for the black petrel.

"This species only breeds on Great Barrier and Little Barrier islands, and is at risk from commercial and recreational fishers, particularly in the Hauraki Gulf."

Ms Baird said it should be standard practice for bottom longliners to use weighted lines, which quickly sink beyond the reach of diving birds.

She said it was also important that fish waste and unused baits were not thrown overboard while fishing, to reduce the risk of birds swallowing hooks.

WWF's New Zealand marine programme manager Rebecca Bird said the plan had to be implemented effectively to achieve real gain for threatened seabirds.

"New Zealand is renowned as a seabird 'hotspot' globally. Nearly half of the world's 22 albatross species breed here."

- APNZ

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