More species of seabirds – notably albatross, petrel, penguin and shag species – breed in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world.
That is why it is beholden on the fishing industry to minimise its impact on creatures we all value.
And the inshore finfish sector, comprising the smaller vessels that work our coastal margins, is stepping up.
Every vessel will now have a specific risk mitigation plan for seabirds and all protected species that will be rolled out across the inshore fleet of about 400 vessels over the next two years.
The programme was announced at the Federation of Commercial Fishermen conference in Nelson last week.
The majority of vessels already practised extensive mitigation measures but this programme would codify and extend the care the fleet was taking, Fisheries Inshore New Zealand chief executive Dr Jeremy Helson said.
“We share our sea with birds, marine mammals, protected fish and marine reptiles and, on occasion, will unavoidably capture some.
“Vessels fishing deepwater species and those in the surface longline fishery already have these plans in place and the addition of the inshore finfish fleet will mean almost every vessel in New Zealand waters will be operating under this best practice.”
The programme has been developed in conjunction with the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation with the intent to have all vessels fitted with an individual plan and the assorted crew trained in the risk reduction techniques by 2020.
Fisheries vary widely according to the geographic area, target species, fishing gear, vessels and fishing practices, so one size does not fit all.
Ten golden rules for seabirds and marine mammals have been proposed for coastal trawlers.
They include holding all fish waste when towing, or discharging away from the path of warps (trawl wires); always employ bird scaring devices; shoot and haul gear as quickly as possible to minimise time on the surface; return live seabirds and mammals to the sea quickly and treat with care; record and report all capture events, dead and alive.
The National Plan of Action to reduce the incidental catch of seabirds in New Zealand fisheries is currently undergoing a five-year review and will be updated later this year.
Most species’ populations are stable, although two are of particular concern – antipodean or wandering albatrosses and yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho).
The antipodean albatrosses are breeding in New Zealand waters but are not returning from their extended migrations, indicating an international issue.
Set netters have voluntarily withdrawn from some hoiho territory on the south-east of the South Island and a threat management plan will soon be underway.
Indicators in other sections of New Zealand’s diverse fisheries are encouraging.
After 23 weeks of the current squid trawl season in the Southern Ocean, there have been two sea lion mortalities.
There have been 1119 tows, with overall 89 percent observer coverage.
A key element of the squid operational plan in place is an estimated fishing-related mortality limit of 38 sea lions, which has been almost halved from last year’s limit of 68.
If that number- based on a complicated formula of actual mortalities multiplied by an estimated strike rate - were caught, the fishery would risk closure by the Fisheries Minister.
Similarly, extensive precautions are in place to protect Maui and Hector’s dolphins.
Set netting has been banned from all known habitat of Maui dolphins and from areas of the concentration of the more numerous Hector’s dolphin, some 15,000 square kilometres of sea.
The various measures show the industry takes the impact of its activities seriously and aims to continue to improve its performance.
That requires the commitment of all parties involved.