Measures to protect seabirds from by-catch

Frustrated by the number of endangered albatrosses killed by fishing vessels, Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton is bringing in new measures to prevent seabirds from being accidentally caught by commercial vessels.

The new measures would require longliners and trawlers to take steps to help avoid catching seabirds, Mr Anderton announced yesterday.

‘‘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.''

Seabird deaths caused by trawl and longline vessels were estimated to be between 3500 and 10,000 a year.

Dunedin's Royal Albatross Centre manager Sam Inder said he applauded any effort to reduce or mitigate the by-catch of the endangered bird. ‘‘It's a positive step.''

Forest and Bird seabird scientist Susan Waugh said overall it was a comprehensive package that addressed the cause of the problem - what attracted birds to the vessels - and would provide much better protection for seabirds.

Seabirds such as albatrosses and petrels were attracted to fishing vessels by the bait that was put on longlines and also by the offal and fish trimmings that were discharged from the vessels when they processed their catch.

Under the new measures, both inshore and offshore trawlers would only be allowed to discharge fish waste at times when there was less chance of birds becoming distracted by feeding and being hit by the cables.

All longliners would be required to use streamer lines that scared 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.''

Also, longliners that processed their catch at sea would only be allowed to discharge offal and fish trimmings at certain times to avoid attracting birds to where baited hooks were being set.

‘‘These are simple measures; proven to be effective in comparable overseas fisheries.''
The measures would impose costs on the industry and technical difficulties for some fishers, he said.

‘‘However, taking no action means ongoing injuries and deaths for significant numbers of seabirds, something I am unwilling to accept.''

The requirement to retain offal and trimmings on board might affect some vessels' stability and present a safety concern. Some fishers could apply for an exemption, Mr Anderton said.

Trawlers would be given up to six months to make modifications to retain offal, but the requirement for long liners to retain offal would take effect on March 21.

The measures were a stop gap while long-term solutions were developed for seabird by-catch in commercial fisheries, Mr Anderton said.

Last November, he called for a limit of 500-2000 on the number of seabirds killed by trawl and longline fishing. In 2004, New Zealand boats were estimated to have killed as many as 7500 seabirds, including albatrosses, mollymawks and petrels.

He spoke out after the Seawin Emerald fishing boat caught 51 albatrosses, seven petrels and two critically endangered leatherback turtles in one three-week voyage and another swordfish boat caught another seven albatrosses. - with NZPA 

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