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Another long-line tragedy

Urgent call to action follows New Zealand albatross deaths

An urgent call for action has been made after shocking reports that a single longline vessel fishing in the Chatham Rise area of New Zealand was responsible for the deaths of 36 albatrosses globally threatened with extinction. Twelve of the seabirds drowned by the vessel were Critically Endangered Chatham Albatross Thalassarche eremite - a species more threatened than the Mountain Gorilla, Giant Panda and Snow Leopard on the IUCN’s Red List. Twenty-two Salvin’s Albatross Thalassarche eremite (listed as Vulnerable) were also killed. The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand (BirdLife in New Zealand) have responded to the appalling news by highlighting the need for urgent action to prevent seabird bycatch in New Zealand's domestic fisheries.

“The high level of seabird bycatch caused by this vessel was totally unacceptable and underlines the need for a stronger regulatory framework based on mandatory regulations rather than voluntarism,” said Kevin Hackwell, Forest & Bird’s Advocacy Manager.

At the moment seabird bycatch mitigation measures are mostly voluntary with only five per cent of New Zealand fishing effort covered by an independent observer reporting on seabird bycatch. Since the incident, Forest & Bird report that New Zealand Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton is considering regulating to ensure all fishing vessels adopt best practice to avoid seabird bycatch, and that he is instructing his officials to identify what constitutes best practice.“We already know what best practice is,” Kevin Hackwell commented, although encouraged that action is forthcoming from the government. “We already know that mitigation measures -such as weighting fishing lines, setting lines at night, not discharging fish processing waste, and using bird-scaring lines- reduce seabird bycatch deaths by up to 90 per cent.”

Forest & Bird are now calling on the minister to act urgently to implement mandatory mitigation measures, rather than voluntary measures, to prevent further disasters. The minister refers to this as an 'accident' but without mandatory requirements to use mitigation measures, this was an accident waiting to happen. The minister must act urgently to ensure no further 'accidents' occur. Every seabird death from longlining is a nail in the coffin for these already dwindling populations of albatross,” commented Dr Ben Sullivan, Coordinator of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme. What is needed is regulations with teeth. Looking around the world, only those countries with mandatory mitigation measures and steps in place to monitor compliance have managed to reduce seabird mortality. This approach is essential to preventing such bycatch events and saving these species from extinction."

4th July 2014