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Minister increases squid catch limits

11 April 2006

Minister increases squid catch limits

Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton will allow fishers to take more squid from the southern ocean this season.

"I am advised that there are more squid than usual in our southern squid trawl fisheries this season. I consider that the Information on the fishery and related impacts on the wider marine eco-system indicates we can take advantage of the economic opportunity this increase presents without posing an unacceptable risk to the sustainability of squid or other marine species," Mr Anderton said.

Arrow squid live less than a year, spawn once and die - they cannot be harvested next season. Their short life span means it is difficult to estimate numbers before the season starts. Often catch limits and management measures in the SQ1T and SQ6T trawl fisheries are decided during the season.

Mr Anderton has decided to increase the squid catch limit in the SQ1T fishery by 20 percent this season. And he has decided to revise the fishing related mortality limit for New Zealand sea lions in the SQ6T fishery from 97 to 150 animals, just for this season.

In making these decisions, the Minister of Fisheries must weigh up the economic benefit of the extra catch against the impact that extra fishing may have on squid sustainability or other marine life.

"The balancing act I am required to do under the Fisheries Act is never easy and involves best judgement based on imperfect information. However, I am satisfied that an increase in squid catch this season will not pose an unacceptable risk to the sustainability of squid, sealions or seabirds."

The SQ6T fishery operates around the Auckland Islands, from February through to April or May. New Zealand sea lions eat squid and are at risk of drowning when they chase squid into trawl nets.

The fishing related mortality limit for sea lions, which is reviewed annually, was set at the start of the season at 97. But Mr Anderton has decided to revise the number to 150 just for this season.

"I am advised that this proposed change is unlikely to have a significant effect on the sea lion population of around 12,000 animals, as the 'threatened' classification of the New Zealand sea lion is not based on population numbers but rather the limited number of breeding sites," Mr Anderton said.

"The scientific model that underpins the advice I have received suggests that a mortality limit of 550 sea lions in the current season would not threaten the viability of the population. However, I still want to exercise considerable caution, given that there are always uncertainties when you apply a scientific model to the real world."

Seabirds are also an issue in the squid fishery. When birds are diving around the stern of vessels, looking for fish scraps, they sometimes get struck and killed by the steel cables that tow the trawl net.

To reduce this harm to seabirds, the government recently introduced mandatory back-of-boat mitigation measures for all vessels over 28 metres fishing in New Zealand waters. Three devices are currently sanctioned for use by such vessels – twin tori lines, bird bafflers, and warp deflectors. These keep birds away from the danger area where trawl warps enter the water.

"Anecdotal evidence from fisheries observers indicates that some mitigation measures are having success in reducing impacts on birds. I am advised that many vessels currently fishing for squid will target other species in the area and continue fishing regardless of whether the Total Allowable Commercial Catch for squid is increased. On this basis, and with the use of mitigation measures in mind, I am satisfied there will be no significant additional impact on the sustainability of seabird populations if the allowable squid catch is increased," said Mr Anderton.

A scientific trial of all three mitigation devices is currently being run in the squid fishery. This was developed by the Ministry of Fisheries, in collaboration with the Department of Conservation, industry, and WWF. Preliminary results should be known in June, and will be used to refine how these devices will be used, and so further reduce seabird deaths in the fishery.

However, longer-term proposals around offal discharge are also being worked on by the industry and government.

"I consider the dumping of fish waste from vessels is the single biggest factor leading to the incidental catch of seabirds, and reducing or eliminating this continues to be a key priority. I am pleased the industry is taking this issue seriously and has already begun better management of offal discharge," Mr Anderton said.

ENDS

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