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Sea Lions Safe ...For Now - Forest And Bird

Closure Of Squid Fishery Welcomed - Sea Lions Safe ...For Now

The Forest and Bird Protection Society today welcomed the Minister of Fisheries' decision to close the Auckland Islands squid fishery for the year in order to protect the New Zealand (or Hooker's) sea lion.

Society spokesperson, Barry Weeber, said that while the Society welcomed the decision, it was disappointing that the limit on sea lion kills had again been exceeded.

"The limit of 65 sea lion kills agreed to by the Ministers of Fisheries and Conservation may actually have been exceeded and 72 sea lion drowned."

Mr Weeber said that since the squid fishery started in the early 1980s over 2,000 New Zealand sea lions, which are the world's rarest, have died.

"The closure of the fishery in 1996, 1997, 1998 and again this year is a clear sign that the fishing industry must look at alternative methods for catching squid around the Auckland Islands."

Mr Weeber said the industry must consider using jiggers which are widely used to catch squid elsewhere as an alternative to trawling.

Mr Weeber noted that the fishing industry had originally opposed research by the Department of Conservation into a marine mammal exclusion device (MMED) in trawl nets.

"It is a bit rich that the fishing industry is now arguing that early closure of the fishery this year is due to DoC not allowing them to use the device."

"If the fishing industry was serious in using a MMED they would be assisting DoC by experimenting with the device in the West Coast hoki fishery which annually kills around 1000 fur seals or in the southern blue whiting fishery which kills both fur seals and sea lions.

Mr Weeber said the fishing industry were over-playing the economic aspect of any closure.

"The Auckland Islands squid fishery catch has been very variable with an average of only 50 percent of the allowable catch limit being caught in the last 12 years. In 1999 only 3% of the catch limit was caught.

"The Ministers of Fisheries and Conservation need to develop with urgency a management plan to deal with the Auckland Islands fisheries. This must include extension of the current marine mammal sanctuary out to 100 kilometres off the Auckland Islands.

"Squid fishing has drowned the most seal lions but it is not the only fishery that has killed sea lions - they have also been drowned in the scampi, southern blue whiting and orange roughy fisheries around the Auckland Islands."

Mr Weeber said the scampi, southern blue whiting and orange roughy fisheries should also be closed around the Auckland Islands.

For further information contact Barry Weeber (04)385-7374 or (025)622-7369.

7 March 2000

BACKGROUND: SEA LIONS AND FISHERIES

No killed in previous years? Since the Auckland Islands squid fishery began in 1979 around 2000 Hooker's sea lions have been estimated to have been drowned. Squid is caught in nets 60 m high and over 150 metres wide which are towed by large trawlers. Ministry of Fisheries (previously MAF) have only had consistent observer coverage since 1988. In the last 10 years over 800 sea lions have been killed. Sea lions have also been reported drowned in the orange roughy, scampi, and southern blue whiting fishery around the Auckland Islands and in the Jack mackerel fishery at the edge of the Snares shelf.

No of sea lions killed in Auckland Islands Fisheries Year Mortalities Agreed Limit 1988 33 1989 141 1990 117 1991 19 16 1992 79 16* 1993 17 63 1994 32 63 1995 112 63* 1996 105 63 1997 132 73 1998 62 63 was 79 1999 14f 67 2000 72? 65 * not enforced f only 392 tows occurred compared to 3700 in 1997 and 1400 in 1998.

Hooker's or New Zealand Sea lion? Hooker's or New Zealand sea lion (the names are alternates) only breeds around the New Zealand sub-antarctic Islands. The population is estimated at around 11,000 to 15,000 animals prior to the mass die-off in 1998. Of these, 95 percent breed on two small islands off the Auckland Islands - Enderby and Dundas Islands. Dundas Island, where 75 percent of the animals breed is only the size of two football fields. A small population lives around Campbell Island and occasional vagrant pupping occurs on Snares Islands.

The population may have been reduced by over 20% in the recent disease event. The actual extent of mortality of adults will not be known for 3 or more years.

Hooker's sea lions were killed for pelts by sealers in the early 1800s and reduced to very low levels. It is likely that the population has not yet recovered to pre-European levels. Evidence indicates that Sea lions bred in the Nelson area and on the Chatham Islands in the last 1000 years but were eliminated by Maori harvests.

The seal specialist group of the Species Survival Commission (a group of 7000 international specialists) of IUCN - the World Conservation Union, ranks Hooker's sea lion as a vulnerable threatened species. This ranking is based on objective criteria which have been developed over the last 10 years after extensive international peer review. These criteria are now internationally recognised. In October 1996 IUCN published a Red Data Book containing all threatened animals ranked by IUCN specialist groups.

According to the Red Data Book, the new criteria "applie[s] a more objective system for classifying conservation status, that allows comparisons to be made across species in assessing the likelihood of extinction". The new criteria provides for: a. threatened species which is divided into critically endangered (eg magenta petrel or taiko), endangered (eg Hutton's shearwater), and vulnerable (eg black petrel and Hooker's sea lion). b. Lower risk which is divided into conservation dependent (eg saddleback), near threatened (eg royal albatross) and least concern.

The Minister of Conservation has gazetted Hooker's sea lion as a threatened species under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. This was opposed by the fishing industry.

Sea lion Limits: The 1999/2000 fishing year is the eighth season limits have been in place on the number of sea lions that can be drowned in the squid fishery before it is closed. The limits are agreed by the Ministers of Fisheries and Conservation after consultation with all stakeholders.

In 1998 the limit was set at over 79 sea lions before Ministers reacted to the deaths caused by the disease and reduced the limit by 20% to 63. In 1999 the limit was again adjusted to 67 and for this year it was changed with new population information to 65

Forest and Bird has consistently proposed a much lower limit with the aim of reducing mortality towards zero.

Legislation: The mortality of Hooker's sea lions in fisheries is managed by the Fisheries Act and the Marine Mammals Protection Act. Since 1 October 1996 new provisions were added to the Marine Mammals Protection Act which allow the Minister of Conservation to develop a Population Management Plan for protected species at risk from fisheries. Consultation has occurred with all stakeholders, and several technical meetings have been held. The Department of Conservation intends to finish this plan prior to the opening of next year's squid fishery. This plan includes setting a limit for the number of sea lions that can be drowned in fisheries.

The Fisheries Act 1996 has new provisions to control the by-catch of protected species - both marine mammals and seabirds (section 15). Under section 15 the Minister of Fisheries must apply the limit agreed in the population management plan or if there is no plan, the Minister must set a limit under sub-section (2). The Minister has an obligation under section 15(5)(b) "for the purpose of ensuring that any limit on fishing-related mortality is not exceeded" (our emphasis).

To achieve the requirements of the Act the agencies have to establish a process which will ensure that the limit is not exceeded. Despite repeated requests no such process has been established and the limit has been well exceeded for the last two years. A population management plan for Hooker's sea lions is proposed to be released later this year for public consultation.

Industry code of practice The industry has developed a voluntary code of practice for marine mammal interactions. The code includes a provision that any vessel which catches three or more sea lions will be removed from the fishery so that a review can be undertaken. In 1997 two vessels caught three or more sea lions, with one vessel catching more than seven. None of these vessels were removed and no review was undertaken. The industry breached their own code of practice, further bringing into question the effectiveness of the code.

Squid Fishery The squid fishery is a very variable . Squid only live for about a year before spawning and thus the number of squid present every year is mainly dependent on environmental conditions. In the last 10 years the reported catch in the fishery around the Auckland Islands has varied between 1551 tonnes and 34,534 tonnes. The current catch limit is 30,369 tonnes. Squid is caught mainly by chartered Russian, Japanese, Norwegian, Korean and Chinese vessels fishing for New Zealand companies.

In 1996 only 14,041 tonnes had been caught by the time the fishery closed in early May. The fishery usually runs from the beginning of February to the end of April. In 1997 the fishery started earlier, in the middle of January. An estimated 19,843 tonnes were caught last year, which is greater than the catch for seven of the last ten years.

The Auckland Islands squid fishery represents 25 percent of the New Zealand squid fishery, which has a total catch limit of 123,332 tonnes. On average 25 percent of the squid catch comes from the Auckland Islands.

The sustainable catch limit for squid in any of the New Zealand squid fisheries is not known. Research into the squid ceased in 1993 and the current catch limits are arbitrary. The squid fishery is managed under the Quota Management System. While squid are part of the sea lions diet this was not considered when setting the catch limit.

The fishery was closed in 1998 at the end of March by the Minister of Fisheries when 62 sea lions had drowned. This was the first time the limit was not exceeded before the fishery was closed. 2000 was the fourth year out of five that the fishery was closed early because of Hooker's sea lion deaths.

Other fisheries: Ministry of Fisheries observer coverage has been patchy in the scampi, orange roughy and southern blue whiting fisheries around the Auckland Islands so the total number of deaths is unknown. The orange roughy fishery in the area has collapsed. Southern blue whiting and scampi may be a bigger threat in the future as they are added to the quota management system and more effort is put in by fishers to take the allowable catch. Forest and Bird considers any limit and controls to protect the sea lion should include all fisheries.

Marine Mammal Exclusion Devices The fishing industry has been extremely slow in looking at alternative technology that does not kill sea lions. They initially opposed research by the Department of Conservation to develop a seal exclusion device and have failed to report (despite requests) to a Department of Conservation Marine Mammal Working Group on their last two years research into the device. It is unclear whether the device works and ejects live seals. If it just eject dead or dying animals then the device could just be a means of obscuring the impact of fishing on sea lions. Of the vessels that carried the device this year it has not be used in all trawls and the industry resisted requests from the Ministry of Fisheries to remove cover nets from vessels that did not carry observers.

More work is needed into the MMED and the industry could play a role by undertaking research during the West Coast South Island hoki fishery which kills around 1000 fur seals annually or in the southern blue whiting fishery which drowns both fur seals and sea lions. The fishing industry has so far resisted this.

For further information contact: Barry Weeber (04)385-7374

Barry Weeber Senior Researcher Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society PO Box 631 Wellington New Zealand Phone 64-4-385-7374 Fax 64-4-385-7373 www.forest-bird.org.nz


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