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Voluntary action fails to save seabirds

6 May 2005

In an unprecedented move the Minister of Fisheries is calling the bulk of New Zealand's squid fishing fleet back to port to prevent seabird deaths.

It is the first step in a package of measures David Benson-Pope is introducing to address a lack of commitment by the majority of industry to codes of practice designed to protect seabirds.

The package is also required because these same boats will in coming weeks be moving into other fisheries where there is potential for high seabird mortality.

Mr Benson-Pope says that while voluntary codes have dramatically reduced seabird deaths in some fisheries, blatant bad behaviour, most notably in the squid fishery, demands immediate action.

The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2000

The Minister has today directed the Ministry of Fisheries to place observers on all vessels known to be not following industry best practice.  This is in effect the majority of the squid fleet that at its peak numbers 35 of the largest boats operating in New Zealand waters.

The package will also include a move to the mandatory use of equipment to scare sea birds away from vessels and the mandatory control of offal discharge, which attracts sea birds to vessels.

The Minister intends to achieve this change through the introduction of regulations falling under the current penalty regime, which includes fines of up to $100,000 for those who fail to comply.

"We introduced voluntary codes because industry said they were willing to meaningfully co-operate in reducing the needless death of sea birds," said Mr Benson-Pope. "The squid fishing industry has had every opportunity to act responsibly and despite some good operators the majority have chosen not to.  These measures are the inevitable consequence of their poor behaviour."

"Without that commitment from industry the government has no other recourse but to bring in regulation," said Mr Benson-Pope.

Most of the squid fleet ships are foreign-owned, with a majority of them chartered to New Zealand fishing companies.  They operate in the stormy "roaring forties" as far south as the subantarctic Auckland Islands 500km south of Stewart Island.

Nearly half of the vessels (46 percent) did not use a back-of-boat mitigation device, with a further 8 percent using one intermittently

Thirty percent of vessels discharged offal either during trawling or hauling of nets, with a further 26 percent doing so intermittently.

Only 30 percent of vessels complied with both mitigation and offal management requirements.

Government regulatory intervention is a welcome relief .....

The current action of the Minister of Fisheries is commendable, and relieving for advocates of seabird protection who opposed Government introduction in early 2004 of the "National Plan of Action to Reduce the Incidental Catch of Seabirds in New Zealand Fisheries", which called for voluntary action by the fishing industry.

Photo above: Northern Royal albatross. Permission Dennis Buurman, Ocean Wings

See TerraNature article "Government Plan to Save Seabirds is Not Good Enough"

The Government conducted air surveillance of the fleet after an observer reported noncompliance on one vessel in April 2005.

It is unfortunate that it took more than a year to discover the blatant disregard for preventive measures by at least 20 squid fishery vessels, when the integrity of industry claims have been questionable.  During this time hundreds more seabirds have been killed.

Monitoring is needed throughout the entire fishing industry .....

In 2003, TerraNature expressed to the Fisheries and Conservation Ministers, the need for independent observers on all vessels and government regulatory measures.

The disgraceful example of the squid fishery fleet emphasises the need for government inspection throughout all fisheries.

Mr Benson-Pope says the fishing industry is on notice: "I will be investigating other fisheries operating under voluntary codes to ensure those codes are working."

The Fisheries Minister still claims that "voluntary agreements can and are working when the industry shows true commitment and keeps to their word."

Since application of mitigation measures in the ling longline fishery, death of seabirds has been reduced by 75 percent, and in the tuna fishery seabird loss has been reduced by 95 percent.

Unfortunately for fishers that act responsibly, there will always be some that have no concern for environment in which they operate.

Regardless of what reductions in the killing of seabirds are accomplished, there is a continual need to find the one ship that does not comply.  It is known that one ship could destroy hundreds of birds, as in 2001 when one Nelson fishing boat killed more than 300 seabirds in six weeks.

Copyright © 2005 TerraNature Trust. All rights reserved.

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