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New measures to protect endangered sea lions

12 August 2004

New measures to protect endangered sea lions

The Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Fisheries have set a new target to remove New Zealand sea lions from the endangered species list by 2025, Conservation Minister Chris Carter announced today.

"Fisheries Minister David Benson-Pope and I recently met with the leaders of the squid fishing industry where we reached agreement to work together to ensure that eventually, this unique New Zealand marine mammal is no longer on the endangered species list," Mr Carter said.

"Sea lions dive deep underwater when feeding and get caught in squid trawl nets. I am directing my Department to prepare a population management plan for sea lions that will set a maximum level of trawl net-related deaths," Mr Carter said.

"Currently there are only 12,000 to 14,000 New Zealand sea lions remaining and they are found near the subantarctic Auckland Islands. During the last fishing season, around 118 were estimated to have died in squid trawl nets."

While it is an offence under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to injure or kill New Zealand marine mammals, fisheries are exempt provided they meet the Act's reporting requirements.

DOC will develop an overall species management plan which will also examine non-fishing threats to sea lions, such as public interaction with the animals on the mainland and natural diseases. Also included in the plan would be research into the possibility of encouraging sea lions to form new breeding colonies. Measures such as these will help the sea lion population recover to non-threatened levels.

"In the development of the plan my Department will be consulting with Fisheries officials, the commercial fishing industry and with conservation organisations," Mr Carter said.

An interim operational plan will be put in place by DOC and the Ministry of Fisheries until the new plan is able to take effect in the 2005-2006 season.

Media Contact: Elizabeth Brown, Acting Press Secretary 04 470 6874, 021 844 888 Bernie Napp, Department of Conservation 04 471 3139


Background information on New Zealand sea lions

Only 12,000 to 14,000 Phocarctos hookeri remain, one of five sea lion species worldwide.

One of the world’s rarest seal/sea lion species, ranked as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The species breeds almost exclusively on the Auckland Islands, 95 per cent of the total on Enderby and Dundas Islands.

Around 118 were estimated to have died in squid trawl nets during the last fishing season (1 February–7 July 2004).

Female sea lions appear to reach breeding maturity at six years. Each female may successfully pup every two to three years, with one female able to rear up to six pups in her lifetime.

Can dive deeper and longer than any other sea lion or fur seal. Most feeding is done in waters of 100-200m depth, with each dive lasting three to six minutes. Some sea lions have been recorded to dive down to more than 600m, in dives exceeding 12 minutes.

ENDS


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