Rubbing Shoulders with Black Petrels
 
- Fishers gain insight into the plight of this threatened species
 

Towards the end of April a party of Whitianga and Leigh longline fishermen Adam Clow, Wayne Dreadon, Gavin Perry, Clayton White, Mark Dellow, along with Leigh Fisheries employee Angela Cole and boat builder Mitch Pascoe, joined Biz Bell, seabird researcher, on top of Mount Hobson. They were there to help band black petrels before the newly fledged birds flew off to their winter home in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

“Five minutes after meeting Biz I was up to my armpit in a black petrel burrow, carefully pulling a bird out then holding it while she banded it.” Gavin says.

“This experience hammered-in the vulnerability of these birds and their importance as a species. It gave me a totally new respect for them. It would be great if all fishermen did this trip to the colony at least once,” Gavin says.

It was also an amazing day for Adam. “The biggest thing for me was the realisation of how special and smart these birds are and how rare they are. I learned that they have a low survival rate and that fishermen here and South America play a part in their decline.”

Wayne Dreardon with petrel

Wayne, Adam and Gavin agree the danger time is when they’re setting gear before dawn and birds want to dive on the baited hooks. They use tori lines to keep the birds out of the danger zone and weights to sink the baited hooks quickly so the birds won’t dive on them. They make sure the deck lights point inwards to minimise the visual presence of the boat at sea. And they hold scraps onboard when there are hooks in the water – tipping a bucket of fish scraps overboard is like a dinner gong for seabirds.

Gavin added: “Our fleet has been aware of the risk to seabirds for many years and we will continue to do our bit to protect them, and to help others.

Their visit was sponsored by Southern Seabird Solutions Trust an alliance including representatives from the seafood industry, New Zealand government, WWF and Te Ohu Kaimoana, that takes a cooperative approach to seabird conservation.

A longline fisherman adding weights to the set to sink the baits quickly.  Photo: Southern Seabird Solutions