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Highest Number Of Sea Lion Deaths In A Season

Media release from WWF, the conservation organisation. 5 June 2004

Squid fishery results in highest number of sea lion deaths in a season.

Next time you’re eating squid rings, stop and think... a sea lion may have died to get that food on your plate.

The number of sea lions that have died in trawl nets in the squid fishery around the Auckland Islands is currently estimated at 112 for the season to date. The season started in January this year and is expected to end this month. But it’s finishing too late for the New Zealand sea lion. This is the highest number of sea lions ever allowed to be caught in a season since regulation of the squid fishery started twelve years ago.

It is estimated that 1,274 New Zealand sea lions have been killed since 1988 in the squid fishery. The New Zealand sea lion is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) and declared threatened under New Zealand law. This sea lion is unique to our country and breeds only around the Auckland Islands.

Each year the Ministry of Fisheries sets a limit of 60-80 sea lions and the squid fishery is closed when this number is reached. This year the High court ruled that fishing for squid could continue even after this number of sea lions had been caught. This was against advice by the Ministry of Fisheries. WWF is concerned that by allowing more squid fishing around the Auckland Islands, more sea lions will die. The squid are also the food supply for these sea lions and the effect of this increased level of fishing is unknown.

The squid fishery also has the worst record in New Zealand for catching albatross. Albatross collide with trawling gear and can die from the impact, or from getting dragged underwater, or onto the vessel. From 1996 to 2002, the squid fishery caught more than a third of all albatrosses returned from sea (390 of 1,122 were recorded from the squid fishery). This is the highest proportion of any New Zealand fishing operation.

“We urgently want the government to commit to developing and putting into action a long-overdue strategic management plan for the New Zealand sea lion, to allow recovery of the species on the mainland and to remove them from the threatened species list,” says Chris Howe, WWF Conservation Director.

“The New Zealand sea lion is classified as threatened because of the limited number of breeding sites. To move the species toward a non-threatened status, as required under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978, any sea lion and squid fishery management plan needs to assure recovery of the population to facilitate establishment of further breeding colonies,” adds Chris Howe.


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