New Zealand’s endangered seabird ends up as bycatch on international fishing vessels, and scientists are calling on countries to work together to stop it.
A new study, published in an international journal Advances in Science on Thursday, it collected GPS tracking data for thousands of seabirds that roam from Portugal to sub-Antarctic islands.
It was found that many migratory species, such as albatrosses and petrels, spend most of their lives in waters where they have little legal protection.
Canterbury Museum natural history curator Paul Scofield is a co-author of the paper, and says the information shows that what happens to New Zealand’s bird species “really depends on other countries”.
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Conservation efforts by one country could be canceled if birds are vulnerable to threats such as fishing or pollution in another, he said.
The paper calls for more international treaties, so that responsibility for protecting seabirds can be shared between the countries in which they spend time and organizations managing high-sea fisheries.
Scofield said three albatross species that breed almost exclusively on New Zealand’s Chatham Islands were included in the study.
“One, the Chatham Island Mollymawk, spent most of their life outside New Zealand waters. They traveled as far as Peru and Chile, which have very few fisheries regulations. “
The real danger to most roaming seabirds comes from fishing vessels in international waters, he said.
“This is a wild fishery outside the borders of any country. Some of these birds spend a lot of time outside the country, and outside of protection. “
International waters cover about half the surface area of the planet, and include oceans more than 200 nautical miles (or 370 kilometers) from the coastline.
“We could spend a lot of money conserving birds in New Zealand, but without similar regulations on the high seas these populations would not survive.
“We need binding international regulations, and we also need conservation efforts down to the high seas.”
For consumers, Scofield says the most important thing they can do is learn where their fish come from.
“New Zealand’s fishing industry has boomed over the last 20 years, and issues like bycatch are much more under control.
“But that’s not the situation everywhere, especially on the high seas.”
Processed products, such as fish finger or imitation crab, are some of the worst offenders, he said.
“Knowing how sustainable your fish and chip dinner is, can make a big difference.”
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