The environment plays an important role in hoiho protection

How hoiho foraging grounds overlap with commercial fisheries and marine protected areas?


Penguins (hoiho) are one of the most endangered seabird species due to the combined effects of direct, indirect, terrestrial, marine, anthropogenic, and natural threats.

The researchers discovered that hoiho feed mostly in the middle of the continental shelf, where major prey species are diverse. The new study suggests that examining the overlap between hoiho foraging grounds, commercial fisheries, and marine protected areas could enhance the protection of the unique penguin.

Lead author Dr. Rachel Hickcox, who completed her Ph.D. in the Department of Zoology, said, “Understanding how penguins use their environment is fundamental to determining how to protect them.”

The new study analyzed hoiho distribution areas using GPS tracking and discovered a high overlap between penguins, gillnet, and trawl fishing. 

She said, “However, less than 1 percent of the adult foraging distribution overlaps with current marine protected areas, and the proposed South-East Marine Protected Areas network would protect only 3.6 percent of their range.” 

Mel Young, an Otago PhD candidate, discovered a 26.4% overlap between commercial gillnet fisheries and young penguin foraging habitats from 2017 to 2019. The hoiho recovery strategy Te Kaweka Takohaka mō te hoiho highlights the need to reduce or eliminate the threat of bycatch and fisheries interactions and protect and support the marine habitat on which hoiho depends. 

Dr. Hickcox’s and other Otago students’ research has improved their understanding of the spatiotemporal connections between hoiho and their habitat, which could be used in marine spatial planning, an ecosystem-based conservation strategy.

She said, “Moreover, it focuses on hoiho at sea, where they are currently facing many threats that past studies have indicated as primary reasons for their population decline.”

The purpose of current hoiho research is to offer better information to people and organizations that are working hard to safeguard this species from future population decreases.

Dr. Hickcox said, “However, this effort alone will not be enough without further conservation actions to protect them and their food resources as a sea, especially because even the proposed SEMPA network will only protect a small area of their range.”

The researcher at the University of Otago believes that locations with significant penguin-fishery and penguin-prey overlap will be prioritized for future conservation efforts to reduce the dangers of bycatch, habitat loss, and food shortages. She also feels that alternatives to marine protected areas. It should be investigated. These could include voluntary or seasonal fishing limitations, establishing sustainable fisheries, and compliance incentivizing.

The researcher said, “With the considerable amount of research being done on New Zealand marine fauna, there is a great opportunity to integrate analyses such as this into ongoing and future marine spatial planning to improve the national approach in New Zealand.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Rachel P. Hickcox, Thomas Mattern, et al. Risks, resources, and refugia: Spatial overlap between yellow-eyed penguin foraging distribution and prey, commercial fisheries, and marine protected areas. Biological Conservation. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2023.110197
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