It is distressing whenever seabirds or mammals are caught during commercial fishing, but much is being done to reduce that risk.

There is no denying fishing has an impact on the marine environment, just as farming does on land.

But attitudes and practices have changed significantly in the last 20 years or so.

Every mortality report agitates the anti-commercial fishing lobby in particular anew, rightly so, but what is not recognised is the huge strides made in minimising risks.

For example, the development of upper escape openings in squid trawl nets has seen sea lion deaths plummet.

The claim endangered sea lions are being driven to extinction by the fishing industry is simply not credible.

Observer coverage in that Southern Ocean fishery is virtually 100 percent. Every single tow is independently monitored.

Last year only two sea lions were caught, the year before none.

Five captures this year early in the season is a serious concern but it needs to be kept in perspective.

There were an estimated 70 to 140 captures a decade or more ago.

Fisheries NZ said its observers reported the boats concerned this season were complying with regulations and were correctly using the exclusion devices in their nets.

Even so, Sanford, two of whose vessels caught the creatures, responded by withdrawing from the area while an investigation was done.

There was also understandable concern at the recent capture of five endangered Antipodean albatrosses by a longliner off the Bay of Plenty.

Again, the regulator confirmed the vessel was not acting illegally.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has demonstrated the domestic fishing industry is not the main driver of the decline in the Antipodean population and that it is likely being driven by captures on the high seas – or potentially by unknown environmental factors.

The industry is committed to mitigating its impact and strongly supports the Department of Conservation liaison officer project which deploys seabird risk management plans on vessels.

Several trials are under way, including 1800 hookpods (devices that sheath the hooks until below the surface) on the surface longline fleet, monitoring fishing gear sink rates and assessing use of electronic monitoring for black petrels.

Hector’s and Maui dolphin protection is also of concern, with updated threat management plans currently being worked on.

Te Ohu Kaimoana chief executive Dion Tuuta summed up the industry approach.

“Groups like Forest & Bird, they care about these issues, but it doesn’t mean they have a monopoly on caring about the environment.

“Te Ohu Kaimoana is also concerned about these matters but it we are also interested in coming up with solutions which stop the unintended capture of animals, not just watching it on a camera, and that’s why we fund organisations like the Southern Seabirds Solutions Trust (along with Seafood NZ and World Wildlife Fund), which works with fishers to find ways to mitigate the negative effects of fishing on seabirds.”

The bright lights and superstructure of cruise ships are also a hazard for seabirds, according to the Department of Conservation.

Should we limit or ban this aspect of the booming tourism industry?

That would be about as logical as the calls to ban some commercial fisheries.

The most effective way for those concerned about our marine life to make a difference is to engage constructively, as the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defence Society do to varying degrees.

But, then, demonising the fishing industry is so much easier.