Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Gillnets Threaten Penguins

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A global review of penguin bycatch has highlighted the serious risk that fishing nets pose to the survival of many of the world’s penguin species, including Tasmania’s little penguins and New Zealand’s iconic yellow-eyed penguins.

After albatrosses, penguins are the most threatened group of seabirds, with ten of the 18 penguin species threatened with extinction. Of the world’s 18 penguin species, 14 have been recorded as by-catch in fishing gear. Three penguin species are of particular concern: yellow-eyed (endangered), Humboldt (vulnerable) and Magellanic penguins (near-threatened).

Lead reviewer Dr Ursula Ellenberg, who has a joint affiliation with La Trobe and Otago universities, said that set nets – walls of fine nylon mesh used to catch fish by the gills, and hence widely known as gillnets – are causing most penguin deaths. “In Tasmania around 10,000 gillnets are registered, with many more unregistered, and in New Zealand waters around 330 commercial boats use gillnets, in addition to many recreational users. Diving birds like penguins are unable to see the fine mesh underwater, and become entangled and drown.”

Forest & Bird’s seabird advocate Karen Baird, who contributed to the review, said that yellow-eyed penguin numbers have dramatically declined in recent years, with only 246 breeding pairs left on New Zealand’s South Island in 2015–...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.