Hundreds of penguin deaths go unreported by fishing industry

Hundreds of penguins, including endangered hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin, are dying in fishing set nets each year.

Information released under the Official Information Act shows that Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) recorded 14 penguin deaths in the year from October 2015 to October 2016, but this is likely to be vastly underreported. 

“Thirteen of the 14 deaths were reported by MPI observers, who cover only 3 percent of fishing boats,” says Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague.

“The real number of penguin deaths is likely to be in the hundreds, since the 97% of the fishing fleet that has no observers has reported only one dead penguin.” 

"At those levels, set net fishing is a major contributor to the declining population of our penguin species, including the hoiho (yellow-eyed), which is already on the cusp of extinction."

The 14 set net penguin deaths were reported in seven incidents. Four were critically endangered hoiho, two were Fiordland crested penguins, and eight were little blue penguins killed in a single incident.

"The little blue penguin incident off Stewart Island shows entire groups of foraging penguins can be caught in set nets,” says Mr Hague.  

MPI director of fisheries Dave Turner responded by saying it is dangerous to extrapolate numbers from observed penguin deaths. Mr Hague says the response from MPI is pathetic, and that the Ministry’s failure to take action on systematic covering up of penguin by-kill is far more dangerous.  

“MPI is heavily influenced by the fishing industry and they’ve failed to act to protect penguins, and marine mammals from commercial fishing.” 

"The fishing industry seems unwilling to comply with the law on reporting penguin deaths. More observers and cameras are urgently needed, and MPI needs stronger fishing rules and enforcement." 

The OIA documents and photos of the dead penguins can be found here

Notes for reporters: 

  • The penguin deaths were observed around Stewart Island, Fiordland, and the east coast of the South Island.
  • Two of the four hoiho penguins seen caught in set nets were in the Otago school shark fishery. They were just outside of a proposed Marine Protected Area under consultation by the South-East Marine Protected Areas Forum, about 7km offshore, north east of the Waitaki River.