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Quota risks pushing NZ sea lion towards extinction

23 November 2006 - Wellington

Forest & Bird media release for immediate use

Kill quota risks pushing NZ sea lion towards extinction

The number of sea lion deaths which will be permitted in the squid fishing industry this season risks pushing this endangered marine mammal towards extinction.

Today Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton set the kill quota for NZ sea lion at 93 – just four lower than at the start of last season – despite continuing decline in the sea lion population.

Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles says allowing 93 sea lion deaths in squid fishing nets poses too great a risk to the sustainability of the declining sea lion population.

This year a petition by Forest & Bird asking that the sea lion kill quota be reduced to close to zero was signed by more than 20,000 people.

“Although a limit of 93 is marginally better than last season’s initial limit, it is nowhere near a significant enough reduction to protect this endemic marine mammal from the risk of extinction,” Kirstie Knowles says.

“The new kill quota is 40% greater than the average yearly kill over the last 13 years, when the population is already in serious decline.”
In recent years the population of New Zealand sea lion has shown a steady decline and is estimated at 11,700, with an adult breeding population of just 5000. Pup production has declined by 30% since 1998.

Last season the minister set the sea lion kill quota at 97 at the start of the season – and then raised it to 150 partway through the season – the highest limit ever set. For the whole season an estimated 110 sea lions were killed.

The New Zealand sea lion is listed as a threatened species under the Marine Mammals Protection Act, and listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, due to its high risk of extinction.

The model used to calculate the number of sea lions that can be killed without threatening the sustainability of the population is deficient, and has failed to predict the decline in numbers that has occurred in recent years.

Sea lion exclusion devices (SLEDs) which aim to prevent sea lions becoming trapped in squid nets are not proven to be effective –most sea lions ejected from SLEDs suffer injuries which would probably be fatal.

Fishing for squid using the alternative method of jigging (which uses lines of hooks, and lights to attract squid) would not harm sea lions. Jim Anderton has claimed that jigging would not be safe in the rough conditions of the sub-Antarctic Islands.

However, more than 200 squid jigging vessels operated in the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone in the 1970s and 1980s, including in the Auckland Islands, and other fishing operators have expressed interest in resuming jigging if the trawl fishery is closed.

Once widespread right around the coast of New Zealand, breeding colonies of New Zealand sea lions are now limited to the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands.

Hunting for skins and oil in the early 1800s pushed New Zealand sea lions close to extinction. More recently, the New Zealand squid fishery has killed 1456 sea lions in its nets since records began in the 1980s – an average of 77 a year.

Forest & Bird asks that:

- the sea lion kill quota be reduced to near zero
- the Government and fishing industry implements research and trials on the cost/benefit of squid jigging around the Auckland Islands
- the Marine Mammal Sanctuary around the Auckland Islands where trawling is banned be extended to 100km or to the continental shelf edge
- A Marine Mammal Sanctuary be established around the Campbell Islands

A full report on the conservation management of New Zealand sea lion is available at www.forestandbird.org.nz

ENDS

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