The National Plan of Action—Seabirds sets out the policy for managing interactions between fisheries and seabirds. Our seabird risk assessment underpins that policy - it supports the prioritisation of management actions and provides clear metrics for assessing the performance of the fishing industry.

Risk evaluation leads policy

We carried out a risk assessment for the Ministry for Primary Industries, using a consistent framework to evaluate the risk to seabird populations from New Zealand commercial fisheries. More than 70 seabird species breed in the New Zealand region. By including all these seabirds in the risk assessment, the Ministry was able to prioritise management actions. The risk assessment highlights where more information is required to reduce uncertainty, and where actions need to be taken to reduce seabird mortalities.

A Bayesian approach

Information on many seabird species is poor. By using Bayesian statistical modelling, we were able to work with the available data to produce consistent results. There are many stakeholders with an interest in seabird bycatch, including government agencies, the fishing industry and national and international non-governmental organisations. A clear, principled approach allowed us to build the trust of the stakeholders.

Supporting policy and certification

The risk assessment supports government policy in this area, and is in turn used to demonstrate their commitment internationally. The assessment is used by the fishing industry to support the certification of New Zealand fisheries as sustainable, increasing the value of those fisheries.

In assessing the risk of commercial fisheries to New Zealand’s seabird populations, Dragonfly bridged the gap between science and its associated uncertainties, and policy and its inherent conflicts. They fostered an open and inclusive approach with all stakeholders.

The assessment exercise has given us a new perspective on the risks posed by commercial fisheries, and in particular highlighted risks facing seabirds in New Zealand’s inshore fisheries.

Bob Zuur
Marine Advocate
WWF-New Zealand .