Improving Environmental Performance
While New Zealand already has a good reputation for the sustainable management of our natural resources, we must continue to improve our environmental performance to meet both domestic expectations and international market trends. Equally important is that we preserve and protect our native species to ensure they endure well into the future.
We continue to manage the environmental effects of fishing through a range of management measures. Ministry observers monitor vessels’ fishing activity, report any accidental captures of protected species such as sea lions or seabirds, check that vessels are complying with regulated and non-regulated bycatch mitigation measures, and gather scientific data.
Protecting Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins
Measures to protect New Zealand’s endangered Hector’s and critically endangered Maui’s dolphins were introduced in October 2008 following a comprehensive threat management process that involved consultation with tangata whenua and stakeholders. The measures include a mix of regional bans and other restrictions on set netting, trawling and drift netting in the coastal waters where the dolphins are most often found. The Ministry is awaiting the outcome of a legal challenge launched by commercial fishers against the new measures.
The Ministry also conducted an inshore Observer programme during the 2008/09 summer to monitor the effectiveness of the new measures and to collect information about interactions between fishing and dolphins and other protected species. The programme will be repeated in 2009/10.
Reducing sea lion bycatch
The government and the fishing industry have made a concerted effort over several years to improve the management of the interactions between sea lions and the vessels involved in the southern squid trawl fishery (SQU6T). The performance of this fishery over the past year shows that the collaborative approach is working.
Vessels in the fishery continue to use sea lion exclusion devices which enable sea lions that enter the trawl gear to escape.
A fishing-related mortality limit of 113 sea lions was set prior to the start of the 2008/09 season but, in response to the lower than expected number of sea lion pups on the Auckland Islands, industry voluntarily agreed to reduce this limit to 95 sea lions. Squid abundance varies annually and this has a major influence on the amount of fishing effort that occurs in each fishing year; this year squid were more abundant than they have been in previous years.
Fishing effort is directly related to performance against the fishing-related mortality limit, so an increase in fishing effort, as occurred in SQU6T in 2008/09 (1916 tows compared to 1256 in 2007-08) has meant that there has been an increase in the estimated number of sea lion mortalities compared with last year.
The fishery formally closed in August 2008 with an assumed mortality of 72 sea lions. However, the number of actual sea lion mortalities reported was lower with only four sea lions reported.
Reducing seabird bycatch
We continue to manage seabird bycatch through a range of management measures.
Ministry Observers on fishing vessels report any accidental captures of seabirds, check that vessels are complying with regulated bycatch mitigation measures, and gather scientific data, including returning dead seabirds to be autopsied.
To minimise the impact on seabirds, mandatory seabird mitigation measures have been introduced on a wide range of fishing vessels. All deepwater trawlers are required to use devices on their vessels to deter birds from going near the heavy trawl cables. All surface and bottom longliners are required to use streamer lines in conjunction with either line weighting regimes or night setting. Additional collaborative work is being done with the fishing industry on a voluntary basis to improve their management of offal and fish trimmings to reduce the attraction of birds to the vessels.
A new management framework for seabird bycatch is currently being developed in conjunction with the Department of Conservation, the fishing industry and environmental groups.