Sea life is be­ing mas­sa­cred by com­mer­cial fish­ers, writes John An­thony.

Sunday News - - NEWS -

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.

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