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MFish To Slaughter 598 Protected NZ Sea Lions

MFish proposes annual slaughter of up to 598 protected NZ sea lions

The Ministry of Fisheries (MFish) is proposing to allow the fishing industry to annually kill over 598 of the world’s rarest sea lions, which are unique to New Zealand. This would constitute a near ten-fold increase over the 2003 ‘kill quota’ of 62.

“It’s hard to believe a New Zealand Government ministry could countenance such a major slaughter of a protected New Zealand marine mammal species. Imagine if the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests was proposing to let farmers slaughter hundreds of protected kiwi,” said Forest and Bird’s Senior Researcher Barry Weeber.

The Ministry of Fisheries proposal was outlined at a meeting on Monday to discuss management of squid fisheries-sea lion interaction in 2004.

Each year the Minister of Fisheries sets a quota for sea lion kills. This year is the tenth anniversary of the introduction of the kill quota.

The first kill quota set in 1994 was 16 protected New Zealand sea lions. Last year the quota was set at 62, however the fishing industry took legal action to permit increased sea lion killing. As a result, the final number of protected New Zealand sea lions killed last year was 144.

“In the last ten years the fishing industry could have reduced sea lion deaths to near zero by applying alternative methods of fishing such as using jiggers with bright lights,” said Mr Weeber.

“Instead of an annual kill quota, the Government should establish a 100km marine mammal sanctuary around the Auckland Islands and exclude trawlers fishing for squid.”

“The fishing industry has persistently fought against the limits set by the Government and sought to increase the rate of sea lion killing. For example, the fishing industry has legally challenged the kill quota in the last two seasons.”

“If the Japanese or Norwegian Governments licensed their fleets to kill globally threatened sea lions there would be outrage. But New Zealand’s own fishing industry gets exemptions from the laws that protect marine mammals,” he said.

“The New Zealand public should be disappointed that the Ministry of Fisheries is supporting an increase in sea lions deaths rather than promoting alternative fishing methods.”

“Because over half of the sea lions killed are pregnant females, this year’s pup and the fertilised embryo of next year’s pup are also killed, effectively making it three times the death rate,” he said.


1. The New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) is listed as Vulnerable in the 2003 IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List of Globally Threatened Species. It qualifies under category D2: “Population is characterised by an acute restriction in its area of occupancy (typically less than 100 km2) or in the number of locations (typically less than five). Such a taxon would thus be prone to the effects of human activities (or stochastic events whose impact is increased by human activities) within a very short period of time in an unforeseeable future, and is thus capable of becoming Critically Endangered or even Extinct in a very short period.”

2. The species is New Zealand’s only endemic pinniped.

3. Over 2,000 NZ sea lions have been killed in the Auckland Islands squid fishery since 1980. Recent evidence from observer coverage has suggested that this could be an under-estimate and up to three times this amount could have actually been killed.

4. The total mature population of NZ sea lions is around 7,000. Over 500 killed would be 7% of this figure annually.

5. The NZ arrow squid fishery is highly variable and in the last 10 years the Auckland Islands catch has varied between 950 tonnes and 34,534 tonnes.

6. Squid around the Auckland Islands is caught by about 30 large chartered Russian (22-50%), Korean (14-32%), Ukrainian (9-23%), Polish (8%) and Japanese (5%) trawlers, fishing for New Zealand companies. Less than 15% of the fishing effort is undertaken by New Zealand vessels.

7. NZ 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.

8. Jigging involves the use of small continuous-loop hooked lines which do not pose the same risk to non-target species as trawl nets.

9. 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 Northland, the Nelson area and on the Chatham Islands in the last 1,000 years but were eliminated by Maori harvests prior to European sealing.

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