Frequently Asked Questions on Recreational fishing and seabird bycatch

Is recreational fishing really a problem – isn’t commercial fishing more of an issue for seabird populations?

Many people assume that recreational fishers rarely catch seabirds. However, a survey of fishermen at boat ramps in 2008 found that 47% of recreational fishers recalled having seen a bird being caught, while a report from Dragonfly Science shows there are 30 interactions between seabirds and recreational fishers each day.

It’s also about the sheer numbers of recreational fishers and the growing popularity of fishing as a past time, particularly in the Hauraki Gulf region. In North East New Zealand alone (between Sulphur Point, Bay of Plenty and Waitangi, Northland) 4.8 million fisher hours of line fishing from trailer boats occurred during 2004 – 5.

What can we do if we do catch a seabird?

DO NOT CUT THE LINE - a trailing line can cause future entanglement. Move the boat towards the bird or carefully reel the bird in and use a net to lift the bird onto the boat. WATCH OUT for beaks and feet - they are extremely sharp and fast!

Wrap a dry towel firmly around the bird to prevent further movement and potential injury to yourself and the bird. Hold the beak shut but do not cover the nostrils or twist the beak.

Externally hooked, entangled? - Cut or flatten the barb using pliers then feed the hook back through the wound. Carefully unwind or cut the line from entangled birds.

Swallowed hook? - Cut the line close to its entry point.

If a bird is exhausted or waterlogged, place it in a loosely covered box to recover. Release a bird at water level.

Our Seabird id guide also includes this information.

How important is New Zealand when it comes to seabird survival and populations?

More than a third of the world’s seabirds breed in New Zealand – that’s over 86 types - giving New Zealand the title of seabird capital of the world. What happens in our waters affects the world’s seabird populations. Unfortunately NZ also has more threatened seabird species than anywhere in the world, with 11 listed as Nationally Critical, seven Nationally Endangered and 10 Nationally Vulnerable.

Many of our seabirds are equally or more threatened than our more familiar ‘land’ birds but because they are not in our ‘backyards’ they are not as well known or appreciated.

Does it really matter if we catch one seabird?

While most birds (77%) are released unharmed, certain species are so threatened that even the death of a single bird really does matter, especially when it's an adult that can't return to feed its chick.

The future of some populations are also delayed as the remaining parents find another partner. They won't breed again until at least the next season and many of our threatened seabirds such as black petrel only lay one egg a season.

Why should anglers in particular care about protecting seabirds?

No one wants to snag a seabird when they’re fishing and not just because of the inconvenience. Seabirds are fisher’s friends – they are nature’s fish finders and knowing your seabirds helps you know what’s under the surface from many miles away.

For example Black Petrel feed on bioluminescent squid, small fish and crustaceans. They mainly fish within six metres of the surface and can be a sign of marlin in summer

Australasian Gannet are daytime fishers. Gannets circling high over a small area indicates they are waiting for predators to push schooling bait fish (like mackerel, herring and pilchards) to the surface. Shallow dives can indicate piper or saury, a steeper dive can mean pilchards or anchovies.