Home - option4.co.nz The more people we can get involved in these issues the better

Advanced Search

Promote option4

Please help option4



Kahawai Letter to DoC MCU 2004

Kahawai - Letter to Marine Conservation Unit


7 July 2004


After meeting with Felicity Wong, manager of DoC's Marine Conservation Unit, in Whangarei at the NZRFC conference we decided to compile a letter expressing our concern that the Department of Conservation had done very little to protect the interests of seabirds and kahawai in the inshore ecosystem by not submitting to the process to introduce kahawai into the QMS.

A copy of the option4/NZBGFC/NZACA submission was sent with this letter in an effort to give DoC some understanding of our concerns regarding the interaction between seabirds and kahawai.

Felicity Wong


Marine Conservation Unit

PO Box 10 420


July 7, 2004

Kahawai and seabird interaction

Dear Felicity

It was good to meet you at the NZRFC annual conference in Whangarei last weekend.

At the conference you stated that seabirds and marine mammals are the core business of the DOC Marine Conservation Unit. We believe DOC has missed a critical opportunity to provide information and advocate for the importance of kahawai in the complex inshore ecosystem.

We also believe there is an urgent need for the Department to brief the Minister of Conservation on the critical role of kahawai in the inshore ecosystem and to encourage a precautionary approach to the management of this species by the Minister of Fisheries. It was heartening to hear your views on the close relationship between the current Ministers of Conservation and Fisheries.

It is our position, since the Minister of Fisheries has already determined that kahawai will be managed as a QMS species, the TACC for kahawai should be set at a bycatch level. This would effectively discourage the targeting of kahawai schools by purse seine vessels. More detail of this aspect is contained in our submission to MFish (attached).

We believe the viability of flocks of seabirds have been jeopardised in the pursuit of kahawai by the purse seiners. We estimate up to 4000 schools of kahawai have been targeted and removed from our waters. And still the Ministry of Fisheries is suggesting the stock could be reduced by another 60%. This is unsustainable in our opinion, both for kahawai stocks and the birds that depend on their schooling activity to provide them with a source of sustenance.

Kahawai are also a source of food for bottlenose dolphin and orca, animals that the Department has a keen interest in.

Seabird interaction with kahawai
Kahawai are one of the few inshore fish that push krill and small fish to the surface where seabirds can reach them. The absence of kahawai schools is most often noticed by the lack of flocks of white-fronted terns (also called kahawai birds), whose darting and diving feeding flight can be seen at a distance. The white fronted tern is an endemic species that breed only in New Zealand, though they may spend time in Australia. It is described as especially common around the northern coasts of the North and South Islands. Shearwaters and red-billed gulls also interact with kahawai schools.

Birds that have a strong symbiotic relationship with kahawai around East Cape are Fluttering and Bullers shearwaters ( Puffinus gravia, P bulleri ). Sadly they are rarely seen with gannets when a kahawai school emerges now. It seems seabirds are a much less common sight in northern New Zealand as well, both in the air and at the once packed rocky roosts.

The ability of kahawai to force baitfish to the surface is important for birds which breed during winter. These birds include the grey-faced petrel (Pterodroma macroptera), which breed on the offshore islands around the upper North Island and the rare Westland petrel (P westlandica) whose population is estimated at only 2000-5000 pairs. The Fairy prion (Pachyptila turtur) return to nest sites in the Poor Knights, Cook Strait and Foveaux Strait areas in May and June and the Little shearwater (Puffinus assimilis) inhabit the upper North Island. Less kahawai schools has to have an impact on the potential of these birds to feed their offspring.

We are not aware of any study that has been conducted to examine the relationship between food availability and nesting success of seabirds but it's obvious that the more difficult it is for the parents to obtain food the less chance there is of the chicks fledging. There are other rare inshore seabirds that rely on kahawai such as the rare native Caspian tern (Sterna caspia) and the critically endangered Fairy tern (S neresis). A strong kahawai stock will increase the chances of breeding success and survival of all these bird species.

A school of surface feeding kahawai will attract a flock of birds that may "work" an area of baitfish or krill for hours. It also can attract the aerial spotter planes used by purse seine boats to locate school fish. Removing an entire school of kahawai with a single purse seine shot destroys the bird/fish interaction instantaneously and the dependent species are displaced from the area. Under the current Ministry policy, fishing stocks down to 20% of the virgin biomass is encouraged, as this is the stock size that will support the Maximum Sustainable Yield. If 80% of kahawai schools are gone then dependent species like seabirds will have to expend at least five times as much energy searching for food sources made available by kahawai. Kahawai tend to move to core areas of preferred habitat. In a depleted population kahawai may seldom be found in areas where they were once common. Seabirds in many areas may not be able to reach their food supply at all from nesting sites distant from the core areas.

Kahawai in the food chain
Larger kahawai form an important link in the inshore food chain, feeding on plankton and small fish such as anchovy and pilchard, and in turn become prey to larger fish. Dolphins, including the endangered Maui dolphin feed on kahawai. Considerable effort has gone into protecting this species including a set net ban on the west coast of the North Island. It would be appropriate for the Minister of Fisheries to ban purse seining from the same area.

We have completed our initial analysis of the submissions made in respect of the introduction of kahawai into the QMS. Of the submissions made by four commercial interests no reference was made regarding the impact of fishing for kahawai on seabirds. The majority of the 2000 individual submissions made online via the option4 website, that included comments, mentioned the impact of bulk methods on their fishing experience including the declining numbers of seabirds.

It was notable the only reference made to the seabird interaction was from non-commercial interests and the two conservation boards who made the effort to submit, Northland and Bay of Plenty.  


These are just some of our concerns regarding the seabird/kahawai connection but there are more. Despite our best efforts to work with and gather information on this subject from other groups with an interest in the environment we failed to get any data from DoC, Forest and Bird, Auckland Regional Council, Ornithological Society of NZ, Ecoquest or ECO. Although disappointed with the lack of response, the opportunity to work with these groups in the future remains.

The impending allocation decision for kahawai will have a significant impact on the sustainability of kahawai.

We look forward to maintaining contact and are particularly interested in meeting with you and your new colleague familiar with fisheries management in the near future.


Yours sincerely

Trish Rea and Scott Macindoe

On behalf of the team at option4


site designed by axys © 2003 option4. All rights reserved.