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Endangered seabirds will continue to die under weak new regulations for commercial longline fishing, Forest & Bird says. 

The fishing regulations that allowed five critically endangered Antipodean albatrosses to be killed legally by longline fishing boats in 2018, remain unchanged in the Surface Longlines regulations released last month.   

The highly endangered albatrosses died in a year that saw a big jump in observed seabird deaths, despite nearly all monitored fishers (13% of the fleet) complying with seabird regulations, previously unreported information shows.   

"What this shows is that where there are observers or cameras on board, fishers abide by the rules. Unfortunately, the long-line regulations are so flawed that endangered birds are able to be legally killed in significant numbers," Forest & Bird Seabird Advocate Sue Maturin said. 

“Antipodean albatrosses are critically endangered and will continue to be driven towards extinction if commercial fishing rules aren’t overhauled. They may only have 20 years left if things continue.”  

Information provided to Forest & Bird by Fisheries New Zealand confirms the fishing boat that killed five antipodean albatrosses was monitored and legally engaged in high risk activities including discardinh bait, offal and whole fish during fishing, sometimes continuously. It also did not fish at night. “These practices increase the risk seabirds will get caught and die,” Ms Maturin says.  

Even though discarding bait and offal while fishing is a known threat to seabirds as is fishing during daylight hours, the acting director of Fisheries Science and Information, David Howes, said “This is not in breach of Surface Longline regulations”.   

Forest & Bird has declared 2020 the year of the seabird, saying New Zealanders have a chance this year to turn things around for struggling native seabirds like albatrosses and penguins.   

Submissions are open on a draft National Plan of Action for Seabirds until 27 January, which will guide seabird protection rules for commercial fishing, and Forest & Bird is asking people to demand better fishing rules online.   

“Fishing is the key factor in this crisis that we can actually fix,” said Ms Maturin. “As it’s currently written, the government’s plan to save seabirds will fail.  

“2020 is the year we can fix the rules that are killing our seabirds. Forest & Bird are asking for a Zero Bycatch Goal, cameras on commercial boats, binding actions and rules and an end to set netting in the habitat of threatened species such as hoiho. Let’s only catch the things people eat.” 

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