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August 14, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Save the Penguins

An Official Information Act request to the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) has revealed widespread underreporting of penguin deaths in New Zealand.

MPI’s response to the OIA request, which was lodged by Forest and Bird, reported that between October 2015 and October 2016, 14 penguin deaths have been caused by set-net commercial fishing. Of these deaths, 13 were reported by MPI observers, who are appointed by MPI to collect information on board commercial fishing vessels, and one was reported by an individual.

Forest and Bird challenged these findings on the basis that “only 3% of the set-net fishers have MPI observers on board.” Megan Hubscher, a spokesperson for Forest and Bird, told Salient they find it “extremely implausible” that more than 90% of the penguin deaths caused by set-net fishing are attributable to 3% of the fishing industry.

It is likely that penguin deaths are being severely underreported, despite a legal obligation for fishers using set-nets to report the by-kill of penguins in New Zealand.

MPI reflected that they were aware “that it’s likely that there are more captures than is directly reported.”

Following the OIA response, MPI have made a commitment to collaborating with Forest and Bird and the fishing industry on the issue.

MPI intend to increase its observer monitoring of set-net fishing, focusing their efforts on the protection of native species such as the Hoiho yellow-eyed penguin.

Hubscher was concerned that a lack of action around penguin deaths “could lead to species like Hoiho to become extinct.”

Currently, less than 1% of New Zealand’s oceans are fully protected from commercial fishing, highlighting the need for improved regulation around commercial set-net by-kills.

“We could be the last generation to co-exist with some of these penguins,” Hubscher said.

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