23 Nov 2016

Community work for seabird deaths 'pathetic'

10:38 pm on 23 November 2016

A community work sentence for a fisherman who caused 39 albatross deaths by failing to use a streamer line while longlining for tuna is "pathetic", Forest and Bird says.

Daniel Joseph Smyth was today sentenced to 300 hours' community work. He had earlier admitted a charge of failing to take the proper steps to prevent the deaths of these birds.

A northern royal albatross.

Photo: Supplied

"That comes down to basically eight hours' work for each albatross that was killed," Forest and Bird seabird advocate Karen Baird said.

"It doesn't send a message about the seriousness of what are basically crimes at sea."

Daniel Smyth in the Nelson District Court

Daniel Joseph Smyth Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Smyth's lawyer told the Nelson District Court he was remorseful. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said the offending was deliberate.

Fishing boats use streamer lines to scare away birds. Smyth did not use one while longlining off the South Island's West Coast in April, because they were difficult to deploy and he did not want to endanger his boat or crew.

MPI argued it was not a case of mere oversight. The seabirds were ranked among the world's most threatened birds, it said.

An observer on board advised Smyth several times he needed to use the streamer line.

MPI called the offending "selfish, deliberate and repetitive", Judge Tony Zohrab said.

Smyth has been a commercial fisherman for 15 years. Judge Zohrab said if he lacked training, he should have asked for help.

Such offending could affect New Zealand's ability to have sustainable fisheries, the judge said.

MPI compliance manager Gary Orr said outside court that most fishers were compliant. Those who were not could expect consequences.

Judge Zohrab said the offending was serious. It carried a possible $25,000 fine, which was to be reduced to $19,000 for his guilty plea.

Because Smyth had a history of unpaid fines, the judge sentenced him to community work instead.

That would likely be harder for Smyth than a fine, Mr Orr said.

Mr Orr said MPI was satisfied with the outcome, but it did not like using court proceedings to change behaviour.

Ms Baird said vessel owners needed to take responsibility for the behaviour of those operating their boats.