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Auckland Islands squid fishery season better

13 June 2008 Media Statement


Auckland Islands squid fishery season better

This year's Auckland Islands squid fishery has resulted in an estimated 10 fewer sea lion deaths compared with last year, Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton announced today.

Jim Anderton said that last season there were 56 assumed sea lion deaths, this year there were 46 assumed deaths. Five confirmed sea lion deaths were actually reported.

Fisheries observers, who oversaw around half of all fishing activity, reported 71 seabirds being accidentally caught, including petrels and albatrosses. Several of these accidental captures were not fatal and the birds were successfully released and considered highly likely to survive.

The $50 million a year squid fishery around the sub-Antarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands (SQU6T) operates from February through to April or May, or until the fishing-related mortality limit for sea lions is reached.

New Zealand sea lions eat squid and are at risk of drowning when they chase squid into trawl nets. To manage this, each year the Minister of Fisheries sets a fishing-related mortality limit (FRML), a maximum allowable number of sea lion deaths.

Jim Anderton said that this year, the FRML was set at 81 animals from a population of around 12,000, and the fishery would have been closed once that many sea lions were assumed to have been killed.

"However, this year, the fishery finished at the end of April, without having come close to the allowable limit."

Seabirds such as albatrosses and petrels are attracted to squid fishing vessels by the offal and fish scraps that are discarded from the vessels when they process their catch or haul in their nets. The birds can become distracted feeding on the fish scraps and get hit by the heavy steel cables that tow trawl nets or they can dive down to feed on squid in the trawl nets, become tangled and drown.

Jim Anderton said that to reduce the potential for harm to seabirds, we have introduced mandatory minimum steps that fishing vessels must take to minimise their impact on seabirds.

All deepwater trawlers are required to use devices behind their boats to scare birds away from the heavy trawl cables. Additional work is being done to ensure that all trawlers, both inshore and offshore, manage offal and fish trimmings to reduce the attraction of birds to the vessels.

"No one wants to see sea lions or birds being harmed or killed. It is very pleasing to see fewer sea lions being caught this season, and I encourage the industry to keep working to develop lasting solutions to seabird bycatch."

Jim Anderton said the fishing industry had improved its methods for reducing the bycatch of sea lions and all vessels operating in the fishery are using an approved sea lion exclusion device (SLED) to give sea lions a chance to escape the trawl nets.

The SLEDs were all audited before the season started to see that they had been fitted correctly before the squid boats sailed. Ongoing inspections were carried out by Fisheries Ministry staff over the course of the season to ensure the SLEDs were being used correctly and had not become damaged in any way. Improvements were made during the season to ensure they were operating as effectively as possible.

"Government and the fishing industry have put in a concerted effort over several years to lower the sea lion by-catch in the southern squid fishery. The performance of the SQU6T fishery this year shows that the collaborative approach is working."

The government places observers onboard a large number of fishing vessels in the SQU6T fishery. This season, around half of all trawls undertaken in the fishery were observed.

The observers are tasked with watching the vessel's fishing activity, reporting any accidental captures of animals like sea lions and sea birds, checking that vessels are complying with regulated bycatch mitigation measures and gathering scientific data.

A series of 33 photographs taken by fisheries observers showing seabirds and sea lions that have been accidentally caught in the fishery can be downloaded from the Ministry of Fisheries website www.fish.govt.nz

Background

Sea lions
The FRML is monitored by keeping track of fishing effort, which has an assumed level of sea lion mortality. Therefore the fishery is not closed when 81 actual sea lions have been killed but when there has been sufficient fishing activity so that 81 sea lions are assumed to have been killed.

The New Zealand sea lion, formerly known as the Hooker's sea lion, is classified as threatened under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. However, it is not immediately threatened with extinction but is potentially vulnerable to population decline. Its status is largely driven by the fact that it primarily breeds in one place - the Auckland Islands.

The southern squid fishery is one of New Zealand's biggest seafood export earners. In the 2006/07 season it bought in $85 million in export earnings.

Seabirds
New Zealand is an important breeding ground for approximately eighty seabird species and has the greatest variety of albatross and petrel species in the world.

Seabird species globally are facing a number of threats, both at the sites where they breed and while they are feeding at sea. One of the key threats is bycatch by commercial fishers, especially longline and trawl fishers.

It is mandatory for one of three approved seabird bycatch mitigation devices to be used by all large deepwater trawlers, including squid fishing vessels. The approved mitigation devices are: twin tori lines, bird bafflers, or warp deflectors. These devices are designed to keep birds away from the danger area where trawl warps enter the water.


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