Government taking action to protect albatross

  • Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall

New population figures for the critically endangered Antipodean albatross showing a 5 percent decline per year highlights the importance of reducing all threats to these very special birds, Acting Minister of Conservation Dr Ayesha Verrall says.

The latest population modelling, carried out by Dragonfly Data Science, shows the Antipodean albatross population, classified as nationally critical, is declining at five per cent per year. Their current population is estimated at around 3200 breeding pairs, but under the projected decline, only about 400 pairs may remain in 2050.

June 19 is World Albatross Day with the theme ‘Ensuring Albatross-Friendly Fisheries’, referencing the number of albatross and petrels killed in fisheries, and the efforts being made to combat this.

“A decline of this magnitude is particularly concerning for a long-lived and slow-breeding species like the Antipodean albatross,” Ayesha Verrall said.

“The current decline in numbers means that over three generations the Antipodean albatross will be on the verge of extinction if we don’t take action.

“Because albatrosses feed on fish near the surface, they are vulnerable to being caught on fishing lines or in nets.

“We have an action plan aiming to reduce domestic bycatch to zero, and as part of the Government’s commitment to protecting our marine environment for future generations, we have just announced funding for a wider roll-out of cameras on inshore fishing vessels.

“It will be phased in to prioritise vessels that pose the greatest threat to protected species, including the Antipodean albatross.”

“To see a truly thriving population, we need to see improvements in breeding success alongside domestic and international bycatch reductions. This is an area where more research is required to understand the drivers, which could include factors like climate-changed induced shifts in food availability.

“DOC is actively involved in albatross research and is a member of international efforts to reduce bycatch. This includes actively supporting the work of the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels and the Convention on Migratory species, being a strong advocate for albatross conservation in international fisheries management, and working directly with a range of countries and fishing fleets where albatross migrate to support local conservation efforts,” Ayesha Verrall said.

Background information

  • New Zealand is the albatross capital of the world, with 17 species found across New Zealand waters and territories, and 11 species breeding here.
  • World Albatross Day was established by a consortium of countries party to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP). ACAP members strive to conserve albatrosses and petrels by coordinating international activities to mitigate threats to their populations.
  • In 2019 ACAP declared that a conservation crisis continues to be faced by its 31 listed species, with thousands of albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters dying every year in fisheries operations.
  • There are currently about 75 tracked Antipodean albatross, in the third year of a project funded by DOC, the Ministry for Primary Industries, Albatross Research, Live Ocean and the Southern Seabirds Solution Trust. You can view the live albatross tracker here.
  • Proven methods are available for fishers to use on their vessels to keep birds away from the danger zones. These include bird-scaring lines, line weighting, hook-shielding devices, fishing at night and managing fish waste to avoid attracting birds.

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