Fishing and the environment - it shouldn't be an either/or

Published: 29 May 2020

This week’s release of the National Plan of Action on seabirds was the result of three years of discussions between industry, eNGOs, Fisheries New Zealand, and the Department of Conservation (DOC).

It is a good result and has the Vision that New Zealand works towards zero fishing-related seabird mortalities.

It won’t be easy, but it is a pathway the industry is happy to pursue in partnership with the government because it is that collaboration that will put wind beneath the innovation wings.

Innovation is the key to ensuring the fishing industry is not sacrificed at the altar of good environmental intentions.

And much work is underway.

The underwater bait setter, designed by Leigh fisherman Dave Kellian, has now undergone promising trials on a longliner run by Altair Fishing in Nelson. The line with hooks attached is fed into a capsule which is then hydraulically submerged, and the baited hooks released deep underwater. This avoids seabirds having access to the bait.

It is an impressive operation and was developed to production by Skadia Technologies who supplied this video of it in operation.

This was a collaboration between industry, Fisheries New Zealand, DOC and the Auckland Zoo Charitable Trust through Southern Seabird Solutions.

Skadia Technologies' Bait Setter

The Hookpod is another example. This revolutionary device keeps the hooks from longline vessels shielded in a plastic pod until they are 20 metres underwater and well away from diving birds before it releases the bait. Again, trialling these devices was an industry and government collaboration.

Of course, a simpler solution to saving seabirds would have been to ban fishing – a solution some of the fishing opponents would prefer – but simple solutions are almost never the best solutions.

Investment in our economy need not come at the expense of investment in our environment. We would argue that most fishers are already doing their utmost to lessen their footprint on the ocean and the support and encouragement of government agencies is the pathway to do more.

Things are tough out there in this post-COVID world, but instead of using a stick to protect the environment, we need to find workable, innovative solutions that will still allow us to supply New Zealand and the world great seafood. If COVID-19 has taught us anything it is the importance of secure food supply.

The collaboration outlined above is the key to real progress, with the realisation that the choice need not be the environment or commercial fishing – but can be both.