Research consultant Ursula Ellenberg details the effect of
commercial fishing operations on yellow-eyed penguins, at a
symposium in Dunedin on Saturday. Photo by Jane Dawber.
More data must be collected to reduce the number of
yellow-eyed penguins inadvertently killed through commercial
fishing operations around Otago and Southland, conservationists
were told in Dunedin at the weekend.
Research consultant Ursula Ellenberg made a presentation at
the annual yellow-eyed penguin symposium on Saturday about
the impact of commercial fisheries on yellow-eyed penguins.
Dr Ellenberg said 72 of the birds were killed as a result of
becoming by-catch in gill nets within New Zealand's exclusive
economic zone between 1979 and 1997, although it was
estimated a far greater number of such deaths went
It was also estimated a further 70-odd yellow-eyed penguins
were killed as a result of becoming trawling or long-line
fishing by-catch each year.
"We desperately need good figures for mortality rates of
yellow-eyed penguins, especially distinguishing between
juveniles and adults as well as males and females.
"Reported by-catch rates are low, partly because of
population decline, so we need high observer coverage to get
accurate data," Dr Ellenberg said.
A major problem for those trying to maintain the yellow-eyed
penguin population was New Zealand's low rate of independent
monitoring on commercial fishing vessels, she said.
There was no incentive for fishers to report by-catch,
especially when it comprised species such as the yellow-eyed
Dr Ellenberg said the subsequent lack of data made it
difficult to lobby for additional controls and mitigation
measures in order to prevent further deaths.
A recently imposed ban on commercial netting within 6.4km of
the coast was a step in the right direction, but meaningless
if not policed, she said.
"There will be a lot of set nets within those areas," Dr
Conservationists failed to get observer coverage on boats in
Foveaux Strait and around the Otago Peninsula this year, but
would continue to push for increased monitoring, she said.
On small set-net vessels, which could not accommodate an
observer, electronic monitoring was being trialled.
It connected cameras, GPS and winch sensors to evaluate the
amount of catch at specific locations and times.
"Trials so far in New Zealand have had promising outcomes in
that you get a very detailed picture of what's happening at
sea. I'm not sure how well a yellow-eyed penguin will show up
on camera footage, but it's worthwhile because we won't
manage to get an independent observer on all boats," Dr
Ministry for Primary Industries programme analyst Santiago
Bermeo told the 50-odd symposium participants about a
five-year observer plan now being developed.
The Department of Conservation, Forest and Bird, World
Wildlife Fund and fisheries industry members were involved in
the plan, which focused on seabirds affected by commercial
operations, he said.
Under guidelines set down by the UN's Food and Agriculture
Organisation, the Government was trying to establish how many
seabird deaths caused by human interference those species
populations could sustain.
Interventions were required if the actual numbers were
greater than that, but ultimately the Government had limited
resources and could not meet the demand for observer
coverage, Mr Bermeo said.