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Forest & Bird has presented government ministers Stuart Nash and Eugenie Sage with a 10,481-signature petition, and over 3000 individual submissions calling for an end to the commercial fishing practices the government estimates kill up to 14,400 seabirds a year.

The petition says: “Commercial fishing is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of marine mammals and thousands of seabirds every year – and those are just the ones we know about. And until we get the government to commit to Zero Bycatch, nowhere is safe for some of New Zealand's most incredible wildlife."

Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague says, “killing over 14,000 birds a year is a massacre, and one that is completely legal under New Zealand law.  It is clear our fishing rules need an urgent update."

Backing the call for a Zero Bycatch goal are 25 marine and biology scientists, including the head of Head of Natural Sciences at Auckland Museum, Dr Thomas Trnski, Director of the National Aquarium of New Zealand, Dr Adrian Fowler; and Head of Department of Marine Science at University of Otago, Prof Stephen Dawson.

“New Zealanders love nature, and they want to protect it – the rules governing fishing are out of step with New Zealanders’ values. It’s time to put nature first, and only catch what we eat,” says Mr Hague.

The most recent official observer data shows over 35 species of seabird were captured by commercial fishing boats in New Zealand waters in just 12 months from 2018-2019. Many birds killed were rare and threatened animals such as the Otago shag, Fiordland crested penguin, and Antipodean albatross.

Currently, it is completely legal for commercial fishers to harm or kill protected species, as long as they report any captures. Yet the Government’s own data shows many fishers are not reporting the seabirds they catch.” (Pg 4, table 4).  

Forest & Bird is calling for the government, as part of its National Plan of Action for Seabirds, to:

  • implement a zero bycatch goal with year-on-year reductions to reach negligible bycatch by 2025
  • create binding actions and rules with consequences for non-compliance.
  • require fishers to use all available tools to deter seabirds from their fishing gear in line with international best practice
  • put cameras or observers on all commercial fishing boats to ensure all fishers meet their obligations
  • end set netting in the habitat of threatened species like Hector’s dolphins, and hoiho/yellow-eyed penguins.

Forest & Bird’s plan for delivering zero bycatch can be found here.

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