Black Petrel Update:
Would you fly all the way to Norfolk Island for a feed?
by Kate Waterhouse

Black petrel on the wing. Photo by Pete Morris, Birdquest Tours

Those of you who have been following our black petrel campaign will know that black petrels are on the brink. You’ll also know they mainly breed high on Mt Hobson/Hirakimata from November to May each year – so they are in many ways ‘our bird’. If you step outside around dusk on the island you should hear them crossing the coast on their way to the colony.

There is good news to report this time – action from the fishing industry and Ministry of Primary Industries. And last year, while dry for us, was a good year for petrel breeding with more chicks fledged than has been the case for several years. Black petrels are sensitive to El Nino and La Nina years as they range right across the Pacific to the coastal waters of Ecuador and Peru – where they are also at risk of being hooked by fishers..

Elizabeth (Biz) Bell, black petrel researcher, will be back up “the hill” in early December to check returning birds and attach tiny dive-depth and GPS loggers to a special few birds. This is the continuation of a pilot study Bell carried out last year. Results so far show black petrels are amazingly able to pinpoint underwater seamounts and patrol the continental shelf, diving to depths of more than 27m for small fish during the day but less than a metre for squid at night. Birds travel phenomenal distances on foraging trips out from Great Barrier – one was tracked hundreds of kilometers north to the Norfolk Rise – a fishing hotspot. Fishers and researchers will increasingly work together to build an understanding of bird behaviour and how we could avoid hungry breeding birds overlapping with fishing boats in the breeding season. Bell needs funding for this research over a five year period and is seeking support from a range of agencies and the fishing industry as well as working in partnership with Auckland Council. Contact her at Wildlife Management International if you can help: www.wmil.co.nz

Because there are between 1000 and 1500 breeding pairs left and these birds are slow breeders, it is our responsibility to protect them while they are breeding in New Zealand. Recognising this, on 25 September the Hauraki Gulf Forum, which governs the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, called for a report on seabirds in the gulf. The Black Petrel Action Group made a presentation to encourage the forum to ask the Minister of Fisheries for action in the upcoming breeding season.

Later in September we finally got first sight of real action from the ministry, including:

1. Funding for a liaison officer to work with fishers in FMA1 – including the area surrounding Great Barrier and black petrel foraging territory.

2. Face to face skipper briefings - covering all long line vessels by 1 October – the start of the fishing year

3. Individual vessel plans to get change happening on every boat - with input of fishers to ensure plans are specific to each vessel

4. Commitment from MPI to work to develop a set of management guidelines/procedures for skippers on what to do when black petrels are being caught

5. A liaison person to work with observers which will be put onto snapper long liners in the SNA1 fishery this season

6. Options for observers to intervene at agreed trigger points on a vessel if birds are killed when an observer is on board

7. Spreading observer days later into the breeding season between January and April when when most bird captures have previously occurred (chicks are fat and both parents are active feeding them at this time).

8. Increasing recreational fisher awareness via distribution of de-hooking cards and working with charter operators and recreational fishing organisations.

Black petrels follow a recreational fishing boat in the Hauraki Gulf
Photo: Neil Fitzgerald

A review meeting on December 17th will check the progress of all of these initiatives, and MPI say they will begin consultation with Ngati Rehua and Ngati Manuhiri, which has not previously taken place. 

This short term Black Petrel action plan is encouraging and officials have indicated they will be turning their attention to the medium-term plan.  This will involve re-convening the National Plan of Action-Seabirds Advisory Group with the addition of black petrel experts.  We will continue to monitor progress on this in the coming months.
You can still make a difference with individual letters to the Minister of Fisheries and Minister of Conservation. Your letter should ask for immediate implementation of the Black Petrel Action Plan and further long term management steps to prevent the extinction of black petrels. The minister is obliged under legislation to act to protect black petrels and any other protected species from death through interaction with commercial fishers. The Marine Spatial Plan for the Hauraki Gulf recognises the Gulf is a seabird hub. The public consultation on this plan in 2014 will be another opportunity to show you care about the future of these birds. You’ll find the Black Petrel Action Group on facebook and the link is on our website – ‘like us’ and we will keep you posted.

Black Petrel chick in nexting burrow. 
Photo: Department of Conservation

Dr Emma Cronin           

The Hauraki Gulf Forum has also been working with others to raise awareness of seabird smart fishing with recreational fishers, holding a workshop hosted with Southern Seabird Solutions Trust and Forest and Bird. Aimed at staff from Auckland Council, Waikato Regional Council, Department of Conservation, Ministry of Primary Industries and iwi organisations working in public and educational roles, the workshop looked at how to build capacity among staff and educators working with recreational fishers on seabird-smart fishing. For a handy back of the boat card go to http://southernseabirds.org

And to round off the good news, GBI Trust trustee Emma Cronin, co-manager at Glenfern Sanctuary, has been granted a Churchill Fellowship to take black petrel educational resources developed for schools on Great Barrier to schools in Equador and Peru – translated of course! Emma’s initiative mirrors efforts by scientists and seabird advocates to raise awareness of seabird safe fishing practices in those countries amongst small coastal communities. And she tells me black petrels are once again breeding beneath the old trees of Glenfern Sanctuary. Let’s hope it’s another good year.