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Limit set for sea lion deaths in squid fishery

Tuesday 7 October 2003 Media Statement

Cautious limit set for sea lion deaths in squid fishery

Fisheries Minister Pete Hodgson has taken a conservative approach to setting the limit for New Zealand sea lion deaths in the southern squid trawl fishery this season.

This year the official number of sea lion deaths allowed before the fishery is closed will be 62, the lowest number recommended in advice to the Minister. The least conservative option would have allowed 124 deaths. Last year the limit was 70.

The New Zealand sea lion – formerly known as the Hooker's sea lion – is classified as a category B threatened species under the Marine Mammals Protection Act, meaning it is not immediately threatened with extinction but is potentially vulnerable to population decline.

The sea lions eat squid and are at risk of capture and drowning when they follow squid into trawl nets. Each year an operational plan for the squid fishery sets a maximum number of fishing-related sea lion deaths. The limit is aimed at allowing the population to grow and reach non-threatened status within 20 years.

Sea lion exclusion devices are being tested in the fishery to see whether they reliably expel sea lions from squid nets, alive and without serious injury. The standard device is a metal grid across the net which allows squid to pass through but deflects a sea lion through an escape hatch at the top of the net. Results of tests to date, although inconclusive, indicate that at least some sea lions survive ejection. Tests will continue this season on designated vessels carrying Ministry of Fisheries observers.

The actual number of sea lion deaths this year could exceed 62 if more testing is done of the exclusion devices, to provide better evidence on survivability to support future decisions on device use. The testing requires sea lions to be caught in cover nets after being expelled by the exclusion devices, so the effect of the impact with the device can be analysed by post-mortem. Sea lion deaths resulting from this testing on designated research vessels will not be counted in the tally that triggers closure of the fishery. A full research effort is expected to result in no more than 27 additional deaths.

When estimating the total number of sea lion deaths for the rest of the squid fleet this year, the ministry will assume on the basis of results so far that the use of approved exclusion devices reduces sea lion deaths by 20 percent. This assumption will apply to vessels carrying observers or alternative monitoring measures agreed with the ministry, such as video cameras.

"The long term interests of the industry require it to develop effective technologies and methods for avoiding sea lion deaths," Mr Hodgson said. "Cooperation and goodwill from all stakeholders in the squid fishery will ensure that conservation and sustainable fishing objectives can both be achieved."

The southern squid trawl fishery operates around the Auckland and Snares Islands, from February to April or May.

ENDS

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