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Forest & Bird concerned at new sea lion kill quota

7 December 2009 – Wellington

Forest & Bird media release for immediate use


Forest & Bird concerned at new sea lion kill quota


Independent conservation organisation Forest & Bird believes Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley should have set a lower sea lion kill quota for this squid fishing season to reflect the declining sea lion population.

Last night Mr Heatley announced he had set a limit of 76 New Zealand sea lions that can be killed in squid fishing nets during the 2010 fishing season around the sub-Antarctic islands.

Forest & Bird Marine Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles says Mr Heatley should have chosen a much lower figure because of the sharp decline in sea lion pups born last summer and because the total sea lion population has dropped to 9800 from 12,000-14,000. The revised figure was published last month.

“The Minister has not been cautious enough, selecting a figure at the higher end of the range of Fisheries Ministry-recommended options. In setting the 76 figure, he has failed to adequately reflect the alarming 31% fall in the number of sea lion pups born last summer and the decline in the overall sea lion population to 9800,” Kirstie Knowles says. “On top of this, last summer DOC reported about 700 female sea lions did not return to their breeding sites on the sub-Antarctic islands.

“We nervously wait for DOC to report on the number of sea lion pups born this summer. If the numbers are as low as last year or possibly even lower, we would call on Mr Heatley to immediately reduce the sea lion kill quota or even close the squid fishery around the sub-Antarctic islands.”

Squid fishing boats are finding ways around fishery management rules. The number of tows of squid boat trawl nets is restricted. But the squid fishery is simply extending the duration of each tow. Last summer, following the reported drop in breeding sea lion numbers, squid boats also fished for 24 weeks, compared with the normal 14-week fishing period – a 71% jump. “The fishery is cheating the system and prolonging the danger for sea lions,” Kirstie Knowles says.

“This year’s kill quota is a step in the right direction, compared with the outrageous 113 figure Mr Heatley set last year. But the New Zealand sea lion population will only start to recover if he makes some tough decisions about the squid fishery and reduces the kill quota closer to zero.

“There’s nothing accidental about the sea lions dying in squid nets. It’s a consequence of fishing in this area and at the time of year when sea lions are breeding and feeding their pups.” A long-term solution would be to increase the size of the marine mammal sanctuary around the Auckland Islands and create a sanctuary around Campbell Island. This would exclude trawlers from the main feeding grounds of the sea lions during this critical time each year but allow other fishing.

New Zealand sea lions were once found around mainland New Zealand coasts but now breed in a few colonies on sub-Antarctic islands and a few individuals on Otago beaches. They have been classified as a threatened species since 1997. Last year the World Conservation Union (IUCN) elevated their threat status by listing them as being in decline.

ENDS

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