Southern Buller's Albatrosses at colony. CREDIT: Alan Tennyson

The fishing industry is supporting research into a special albatross population in southern waters.

Funding from the Deepwater Group will assist a long term population study of the Southern Buller’s Albatross on The Snares, the northernmost of New Zealand’s subantarctic islands, about 200 km south of Stewart Island.

The survey will be conducted in April and is a continuation of a sampling series begun in 1991.

Fishing activity has been claimed to be a major threat to the birds’ survival but research results have confirmed this is not the case.

And the outlook for the species is positive, with a projected population increase.

The Southern Buller’s is endemic to New Zealand waters and breeds only on The Snares and Solander Islands in western Foveaux Strait.

The species was listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as “near threatened” and was deemed to be “at very high risk of direct fishing-related mortality within the EEZ”.

A 10-year population projection, released by the Ministry for Primary Industries in March 2016, found that at the current demographic rates, incorporating risk assessment, adult survival estimates and breeding probabilities, the population is likely to increase by nearly 6 percent over that time period.

The historical threat from fishing also appears to have been overestimated.

“Based on the overall trend in the estimated population trajectory and key demographic rates from the base model, we believe that the fisheries risk to the viability of this population over the last 60 years appears to have been small,” the report said.

Titled, The 2014 demographic assessment of the Snares Islands population of Southern Buller’s albatross (Diomedea bulleri bullerir), the report was authored by D Fu and P Sagar of NIWA.

Studies of the population began as far back as 1948 when 159 breeding adults were banded.

The last recorded sighting of one of those birds was in 1993, when the bird would have been over 50 years old.

The population increased markedly, more than doubling between 1969 and 2002 but then levelled off to around 8000 breeding pairs on The Snares.

The Department of Conservation’s annual survey of sea lion pup numbers on the Auckland Islands further to the south has also returned encouraging results.

Pup numbers have increased by 14 percent this year.

The risk to the animals from fishing activities has been reduced significantly by the adaptation of trawls to include large vents that allow sea lions that are following fish into the net to escape unharmed.