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Decision To Stop Fur Seal Transfers Welcomed

Forest and Bird Protection Society today welcomed the Department of Conservation's decision to reject New Zealand King Salmon's application to translocate fur seals out of the Marlborough Sounds.

Society spokesperson, Barry Weeber, said Forest and Bird agreed with the Department that the best long-term solution to seals eating salmon in cages was the installation of seal-proof netting.

"In 1997 the Society recommended to King Salmon and the Department that predator proof netting was the only solution."

Mr Weeber said Marlborough Sounds is part of the natural range of fur seals and King Salmon should not be expecting to remove them just for their benefit.

"Fur seals are a natural part of the New Zealand marine environment and they are currently at less than 5 percent of the population they were in 1800."

Mr Weeber said while the range of the coastline used by fur seals may have expanded in the last 15 years there was no evidence that the population had significantly increased in size."

"The current population is estimated at only 50,000 to 80,000 compared to around 1.5 to 2 million in 1800."

Mr Weeber noted that research based on Ministry of Fisheries observer reports indicate that in the last 10 years over 10,000 fur seals have been killed in fishing nets, over 5,000 on the West Coast alone in the hoki fishery.

"The latest information indicating a decline in fur seal numbers in colonies near the West Coast hoki fishery is consistent with the numbers killed in this fishery."

For further information contact Barry Weeber (04)385-7374

BACKGROUND INFORMATION: SEALS AND SALMON FARMS

In response to an application in 1997 Forest and Bird recommended that King Salmon build exclusion nets around their farms. Last year it was disappointing to find that this had not happened 3 years after we made that suggestion. Our proposal was based on knowledge from Australia on the interaction between fur seals and salmon cages.

Pemberton and Shaughnessy (1993) looked at the interaction between Australian fur seals and salmon farms around Tasmania. While the NZ fur seal is a different species their experience is more likely to be representative of the situation in New Zealand rather than that found in Ireland. Their paper made a number conclusions:

* "The vulnerability of fish-farms was influenced by their proximity to seal haul-out sites. Proximity to fishing ports and size of the fish farm had little influence. * * The only way totally to prevent seals from attacking fish-farms is to exclude them from the vicinity of the fish pens with physical barriers that they cannot penetrate. These are currently in use, and include perimeter fences and protection nets made of steel mesh set around individual pens."

Pemberton and Shaughnessy further state: "protecting a farm with nets, especially with steel mesh nets, is cost effective and relatively cheap.."

It is our view that: 1. The Department should oppose new salmon farms near seal haul out sites or breeding rookeries as they are likely to create an ongoing problem for fur seals and salmon farms.

2. The Department should require King Salmon to use a steel mesh perimeter fence around their cages.

3. The Department should oppose any further investigation of acoustic scarers. They do not work on fur seals and they may have impacts on other marine mammals in the Sounds.

Translocation is clearly an ineffective method of controlling problem seals and should end on 1 October 2000. There must be an incentive for the company to apply appropriate technology to solve its problems.

Salmon farmers have to get used to fur seals. They are a natural part of the marine environment which is expanding in the Marlborough Sounds after being decimated throughout New Zealand during the 1800s. The current population is likely to be less than 5% of what it was at the beginning of the 1800s.

Fur seals are drowned in significant numbers in trawl nets throughout the New Zealand EEZ. In the last 10 years over 5600 fur seals are estimated to have drowned in the West Coast hoki fishery and over 10,000 throughout the EEZ. In addition to the West Coast hoki fishery large numbers have been drowned east of Stewart Island and around the Bounty Islands. The hoki fishery has had a high fur seal catch for over 10 years.

Reference: Pemberton, D and Shaughnessy, P D (1993) Interaction between seals and marine fish-farms in Tasmania, and management of the problem. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, Vol 3:149-158.


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