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Minister's plan allows more sea lion deaths

Minister's plan allows more sea lion deaths

The Minister of Fisheries' decision to allow the squid fishery to kill more threatened New Zealand sea lions was a mistake, Forest and Bird said today.

"While the Minister has set a kill limit of 62 this does not include those vessels carrying observers," said Society researcher, Barry Weeber. "When these observed vessels are added in, the Minister's decision could mean up to 89 sea lions could be drowned which is 25 percent greater than last year."

Mr Weeber said Forest and Bird welcomed the rejection of the Ministry of Fisheries option which would have allowed sea lion deaths to double.

"All vessels in this fishery must have official observers. This will prevent a debate over the number of sea lions captured, ensure honest reporting and allow for a better assessment of the marine mammal exclusion devices added to trawl nets," he said.

"In 2002 the Minister admitted that operators within the SQU6T fishery have not complied with several elements of the operational plan." This year the fishery had poor observer coverage. In the first four weeks less than 8 percent of trawls were observed. One week had no observers whatsoever and another had less than four trawls observed," he said.

Mr Weeber said he was disappointed that the Minister had agreed to a discount factor for the use of seal exclusion devices (SLEDs) in the net. "This goes against the advice of the Department of Conservation.

"Deaths through fishing have compounded the tragedy in 1998 when disease swept through the sea lion population. In 2002 the number of pups dropped by over 30%. There was some recovery in numbers this year but over 20 percent of the pups died from diseases by the end of February," he said.

"Earlier this year, the fishing industry took a court case to stop the Minister of Fisheries from protecting sea lions by closing the fishery. They achieved an injunction but the case was never fully heard and should be revisited by Fisheries Minister Pete Hodgson and Conservation Minister Chris Carter," he said.

"Since the squid fishery started in the early 1980s over 2000 sea lions have died. It is not the only fishery that kills sea lions - they have also been drowned in the scampi, oreos and orange roughy fisheries around the Auckland Islands," he said.

Mr Weeber said industry objections to rules for lower sea lion deaths on the grounds that it would prevent the industry from catching their full quota of squid over-played the effects of such rules and showed an irresponsible attitude towards the marine environment.

"The Ministers of Conservation and Fisheries should urgently develop a management plan to deal with the Auckland Islands fisheries. This must include further consideration of an extension of the current marine mammal sanctuary out to 100 kilometres off the Auckland Islands," he said.

Mr Weeber said the industry must also consider using alternatives to trawling for catching squid. "Trawling is an indiscriminate and destructive fishing technique. Jiggers, which catch squid elsewhere with less damage to the marine environment, should be trialled around the Auckland Island," he said.

Notes: 1. The New Zealand sea lion is recognised as a threatened species by the IUCN- World Conservation Union list of threatened species.

2. The sea lion only breeds in New Zealand sub-Antarctic waters with 95 percent of population breeding on islands around the Auckland Islands.

3. The Sea lion has been affected by a number of disease events in the last 5 years. The population may have been reduced by over 20% in the major 1998 disease event. The actual extent of mortality of adults may never be known but over 50 percent of the pups died. In 2002 there was a substantial reduction in the number of pups born by around 20 percent and a further 30 percent of pups died. In 2003 over 20 percent of pups died before the end of February due to diseases. This is an alarming trend in sea lion deaths.

4. The 2002/2003 fishing year is the eleventh 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.

5. Jiggers use bright lights and barbed hooks to catch squid. The method has little by-catch of other fish species and is used in other parts of the fishing zone to catch squid.

6. Trials of the sea lion escape device on trawl nets in 2001 and 2002 had resulted in sea lions suffering life-threatening injuries. The 2001 autopsy "data suggest that sea lions ejected through the SLED may be subjected to potentially lethal blunt trauma. ...Animals so affected would be unlikely to survive." The SLED is worse than useless if it ejects mortally injured sea lions, which are not counted in any maximum limits on sea lion deaths.

7. The results also indicate that SLEDs do not always work as proposed and there are a significant number of failed ejections of sea lions from the net - at least 10-15 percent. In 2002 that increased to over 40%.

8. The Auckland Islands squid fishery catch has been very variable with an average of only 46 percent of the allowable catch limit being caught in the last 10 years. Although the court injunction prevented closure of the fishery, fishers only caught 23% of their quota.

9. Squid is caught mainly by chartered Russian (25-50%), Korean (14-24%), Ukrainian (9-23%) and Japanese trawlers fishing for New Zealand companies.

For further information see the Forest and Bird website: http://www.forest-bird.org.nz/Marine/sealions.asp


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