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Forest & Bird ignores wider science findings on sea lions

20 January 2012

Forest & Bird ignores wider science findings on sea lions

Forest & Bird’s claims that fishing can be blamed for the decline of sea lions ignores a comprehensive government review with global and local scientific experts that has clearly shown fishing is not threatening the survival of New Zealand sea lions.

“While any accidental sea lion death is one too many, the challenge for scientists and fisheries managers and sea lion advocates is to find the real reasons behind the decline and take action accordingly,” says Deepwater Group chief executive, George Clement.

“Forest & Bird’s emotive appeals should be of concern to New Zealanders who care about sea lions because they fail to address the real reasons for these worrying declines. Blame is no substitute for cause when there is clear scientific evidence to the contrary.”

Mr Clement noted that the Department of Conservation(DOC) has been aware for some time that fishing related mortality does not explain the recent apparent declines in sea lion abundance and has been looking at a range of other factors.

DOC has also contracted research to assess whether the squid fishery might be affecting the sea lion population indirectly, via competition for food, and this work has established such completion is not occurring.

“The public can be assured that fishing has been looked at in great detail. Forest & Bird seem to think they have stumbled upon something new, but they are choosing to ignore a vast volume of scientific work that is inconsistent with their attempts to blame fishing.”

As background Mr Clement said the squid fishery has reduced the numbers of incidental deaths through the introduction of SLEDs (Sea Lion Escape Devices) which allow sea lions to escape alive and unharmed if they enter trawl nets. MAF Science estimate an average of 13 sea lions were captured in each of the four years up to 2009-10 and no captures were reported in 2010-11. The sea lion population at Auckland Islands is estimated to be declining at a rate of about 440 animals per year, clearly suggesting that other factors are at play.

“As concerned New Zealanders, we’re keen to find the real reason, and so should Forest & Bird,” says Mr Clement.

Ends

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