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Sea lion kills force closure of squid fishery

An unacceptable number of sea lion kills has forced the early closure of the Auckland Islands squid fishery, Fisheries Minister Pete Hodgson said today.

Mr Hodgson said latest catch data showed the number of sea lions killed in squid trawl nets this fishing season is touching the limit of 65 that triggers closure of the fishery.

"The estimated number of sea lions killed so far this year has reached a range where one more confirmed kill takes the fishery over the limit," Mr Hodgson said.

Ministry of Fisheries observers are stationed on about a third of the boats operating in the squid fishery. Observed sea lion kills are extrapolated to provide an estimate of the total number of deaths.

The limit of 65 kills was set by the previous Government and has been confirmed by the present Government.

Although Marine Mammal Escape Devices are being tested in the fishery to see whether they successfully expel sea lions from squid nets, Mr Hodgson said there was not yet enough information from the trials to determine whether the devices were effective.

There was some evidence that the devices were ejecting sea lions from nets, but no data on how many were surviving ejection. Further research with underwater cameras would provide that information.

"Unless we are sure that the ejection devices work without killing the sea lions, I am not prepared to consider changing the limit of 65 kills that triggers closure of the fishery," said Mr Hodgson.

The Auckland Islands squid trawling season usually begins on 1 February and runs until early May, depending on catch rates and the number of sea lion kills.

Contact: Graeme Speden, press secretary 04 471 9707 or 025 270 9055

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