Biodiversity Offsets: A Cost-Effective Interim Solution to Seabird Bycatch in Fisheries?

The concept of biodiversity offsets is well established as an approach to environmental management. The concept has been suggested for environmental management in fisheries, particularly in relation to the substantial numbers of non-target species—seabirds in particular—caught and killed as incidental bycatch during fishing activities. Substantial areas of fisheries are being closed to protect these species at great cost to the fishing industry. However, other actions may be taken to offset the impact of fishing on these populations at lower cost to the fishing industry. This idea, however, has attracted severe criticism largely as it does not address the underlying externality problems created by the fishing sector, namely seabird fishing mortality. In this paper, we re-examine the potential role of compensatory mitigation as a fisheries management tool, although from the perspective of being an interim management measure while more long-lasting solutions to the problem are found. We re-model an example previously examined by both proponents and opponents of the approach, namely the cost effectiveness of rodent control relative to fishery area closures for the conservation of a seabird population adversely affected by an Australian tuna fishery. We find that, in the example being examined, invasive rodent eradication is at least 10 times more cost effective than area closures. We conclude that, while this does not solve the actual bycatch problem, it may provide breathing space for both the seabird species and the industry to find longer term means of reducing bycatch.