Increase in hoiho caught in fishing nets

Yellow-eyed penguins face a tough breeding season as El Nino affects food sources. Photo: ODT
Just 10 years ago there were 600 nests counted in the mainland population, that's now down to 227. Photo: ODT

An increase in yellow-eyed penguins getting caught in fishing nets is pushing the nationally endangered bird to the brink of extinction.

The claim from Forest and Bird is based on figures estimating 30 of the penguins were caught in commercial set nets last year at the bottom of the South Island and on the mainland's east coast.

It said the numbers were startling given the number of breeding pairs were already in massive decline.

Just 10 years ago there were 600 nests counted in the mainland population.

That's now down to 227, thanks in part to the impact of disease and possibly climate change.

Forest and Bird's Kevin Hague said the impact of set nets was a known threat and one that could easily be resolved.

He was calling for a total ban on the fishing practice in all areas where the birds foraged for food.

Proposals the government was consulting on now to protect the penguins, including some protected areas, did not go nearly far enough, Mr Hague said.

Forest and Bird has also in recent years heavily criticised the Ministry for Primary Industries for failing to protect seabirds.

Recovery plan

Earlier in August, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage released a draft strategy to recover yellow-eyed penguin populations, following a series of poor breeding seasons.

The proposed plan looks to address the pressures the penguin faces, such as human activities, climate change and predators.

Ms Sage said the species, which graces New Zealand's $5 notes, was unique to this country.

"Because hoiho occupy both land and sea, they're exposed to an extensive range of threats, resulting in poor breeding survival rates.

"They need all the support they can get to boost their numbers."

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