09 August 2017

Hundreds of penguin deaths go unreported by the NZ fishing industry

NEW ZEALAND – Hundreds of penguins, including endangered yellow-eyed penguins, are dying in fishing set nets each year, according to conservation organisation Forest & Bird.

Yellow-eyed penguin. Photo credit: Kimberley Collins
Information released under New Zealand's Official Information Act shows that Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) recorded 14 penguin deaths in the year from October 2015 to October 2016, but Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said this is likely to be vastly underreported.

“Thirteen of the 14 deaths were reported by MPI observers, who cover only 3 percent of fishing boats,” Mr Hague said.

“The real number of penguin deaths is likely to be in the hundreds, since the 97% of the fishing fleet that has no observers has reported only one dead penguin.”

"At those levels, set net fishing is a major contributor to the declining population of our penguin species, including the hoiho (yellow-eyed), which is already on the cusp of extinction."

The 14 set net penguin deaths were reported in seven incidents. Four were critically endangered hoiho, two were Fiordland crested penguins, and eight were little blue penguins killed in a single incident.

"The little blue penguin incident off Stewart Island shows entire groups of foraging penguins can be caught in set nets,” said Mr Hague.

In response, MPI director of fisheries Dave Turner said it is dangerous to extrapolate numbers from observed penguin deaths. Mr Hague said the response from MPI is pathetic, and that the Ministry’s failure to take action on systematic covering up of penguin by-kill is far more dangerous.

“MPI is heavily influenced by the fishing industry and they’ve failed to act to protect penguins, and marine mammals from commercial fishing.”

"The fishing industry seems unwilling to comply with the law on reporting penguin deaths. More observers and cameras are urgently needed, and MPI needs stronger fishing rules and enforcement."

Hundreds of penguin deaths go unreported by the fishing industry [press release], 4 August 2017, NZ Forest & Bird

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