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Govt Gives green Light To Sea Lion Slaughter

17 November 2004

Government gives green light for over a hundred sea lions to be killed every year by squid fishery.

The Minister of Fisheries has announced that 115 New Zealand sea lions can be killed by squid fishery trawl operations this fishing season. This is almost double the amount set in past years and it is the highest number ever set by the Minister. And, unlike previous years, the number of deaths will not be monitored so there will be great uncertainty about the number actually killed, which could be as high as 250, or even higher.

A sea lion can drown in minutes when caught in a fishing net, and dragged below the surface. Trawl nets used to fish for squid are "walls of death" for the New Zealand sea lion.

The New Zealand sea lion is a threatened species under New Zealand law. The population is currently only 12,000, and it is estimated that 1,274 of these sea lions have been killed since 1988 in the squid fishery. The New Zealand sea lion is unique to our country and breeds only around the Auckland Islands where squid is concentrated.

"We are appalled that the Minister has set such a high level. Never before has a Fisheries Minister allowed such a high number of sea lions to be caught in a season since regulation of the squid fishery started twelve years ago," says Chris Howe, WWF-New Zealand, Conservation Director.

In the past twelve years the number of deaths allowed has been between 60-80 each season. Last year the limit was set at 62, but a court battle was lost by the Ministry, and the fisheries won the right to kill 124. The fishery season came to a close last year with an estimated 118 sea lions killed. The squid season shuts in April/May or earlier if the set number of sea lions deaths is reached.

"We are disappointed to see the government publicly state that they have reduced sea lion deaths, when in fact the number of deaths will be much higher than in previous years," adds Chris Howe.

Additionally, the decision by the Ministry not to monitor the number of deaths is a huge letdown for conservation of the New Zealand sea lion. The Ministry is using an average kill rate based on previous years. However, the kill rate has been highly variable and it's impossible to set a reliable kill rate based on current data. In the worst case scenario this could mean that by the time the squid fishery is closed they would have killed 250 sea lions, which is over twice the amount allowed by the Minister this year.

WWF is pleased that the Department of Conservation has finally taken steps to develop a sea lion management plan which it plans to implement by October 2005. This will take the management of sea lions away from a purely fisheries focus under the Fisheries Act.

"We hope the sea lion management plan will mean the conservation of sea lions becomes a priority, rather than their future being determined by commercial fisheries targets," says Chris Howe, WWF-New Zealand, Conservation Director.

Notes - The average kill rate has varied greatly over the past twelve years. This is why WWF believes annual observer coverage is essential. The kill rate varies between 0.8 to 11.8 per 100 trawl tows. Therefore the kill rate of 5.3 per 100 tows, which the government is now using, is not a good indicator of what may happen on a season by season basis.


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