Sea life is being massacred by commercial fishers, writes John Anthony.
A dozen whales, two orca, six Hector’s dolphins and thousands of seals have been caught by commercial fishing vessels in New Zealand waters since 2013, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) figures show.
But the highest casualty rate has been among protected seabirds with nearly 10,500 animals from more than 70 species caught as commercial fishing bycatch in New Zealand waters in the past five years, according to the numbers released under the Official Information Act. The most common bycatch species are albatross, shearwater and petrel.
In response, both the Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage and Seafood New Zealand have pledged a goal of a zero bycatch.
About 4000 of all birds caught as bycatch were recorded by observers, and the rest reported by commercial fishing operators.
In the same five-year period about 2700 marine mammals were caught included a humpback whale, two elephant seals, three leopard seals, six Hector’s dolphins and 2235 New Zealand fur seals.
About 900 mammals caught as bycatch were recorded by observers.
Various species of turtles, sharks, manta rays, sponges and coral have also been dragged in as bycatch in the past 10 years.
It is not illegal to catch marine mammals and seabirds but failure to report a bycatch incident can result in a fine of up to $10,000. Since November 2015 only one prosecution involving the capture of a protected species has resulted in a penalty, which was 300 hours of community work.
In the past year observers were present on an average of 10 per cent of fishing vessels. Set-net trawlers had the lowest observed rate of 2.7 per cent and trawlers had the highest, of 19.5 per cent.
Sage said reducing bycatch rates were ‘‘top of mind’’ for her.
Adopting improved fishing methods would go some way in reducing bycatch, she said.