Commercial fishers looking after penguins down south

Yellow-eyed penguin (Hoiho). Photo credit: Brent Beaven (DOC)

Commercial fishermen are the quiet achievers when it comes to protecting habitats and fish species across various spatial scales. In a previous article, we described the measures they had voluntarily put in place for certain habitats and fish species life stages. More recently, the population status of yellow-eyed penguins has raised issues that commercial fishers are being proactive about.

Following a recent industry meeting, a number of fishermen who currently use commercial set nets in the coastal areas of Stewart Island, have volunteered to suspend their set netting activity in targeted areas around the Horseshoe Point and Port Pegasus to protect yellow-eyed penguin. These restrictions are in addition to continued support to retain the current 4nm voluntary suspension around Codfish Island, established by the same fishermen in 2018.

The restriction of set netting is undertaken out of concern for the overall population of yellow-eyed penguin on Stewart Island and more widely in the Southland/Otago region. While we reject the notion that commercial set netting is solely responsible for the plight of the population, these operators have resolved to take further action to minimise effects on them. Loss of habitat on land, disease, human disturbance, heat stress and hypothermia, as well as predation on the chick population by introduced species such as feral cats, ferrets and stoats also cause significant impacts on yellow-eyed penguins. Sharks, barracouta, fur seals and New Zealand sea lions have been known to take yellow-eyed penguins at sea.

Location of the three voluntary commercial set net restricted areas around Stewart Island, a)Codfish Island, b) Horseshoe Point, c) Port Pegasus. These boundary lines are approximate.

Since 2003, yellow-eyed penguins have been fitted with tracking devices (GPS dive loggers, dive transmitters and satellite transmitters) to investigate their at-sea movements and diving behaviour across the mainland range that includes Stewart Island. This work was undertaken by University of Otago between 2003-2018 and by the Department of Conservation between 2018 to 2020.

GPS tracking data provides invaluable spatial information when identifying overlaps in foraging distribution and commercial fishing. In turn, it allows fishers to assess their fishing practices and consider whether voluntary spatial or temporal restrictions could be adopted to minimise their risk to those species.

Commercial fishers using set netting, work under a set of operational procedures and vessel-specific risk management plans, with overview from Department of Conservation Liaison Officers who work regularly with fishers to ensure they have the latest mitigation methods and advice.

The industry will continue to monitor the risk of commercial fishing to yellow-eyed penguins and protected species more widely as more sciencebased evidence is collected and peer reviewed. The Operational Procedures for Protected Species can be found on the Fisheries Inshore NZ webpage operational-procedures/

For more information on these special birds and the other factors affecting them other than fishing can be found on the Department of Conservation website https:// native-animals/birds/birdsa-z/penguins/yellow-eyed- penguin-hoiho/

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