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Court decision allows more sea lion killing

Court decision allows more sea lion killing

The Court of Appeal decision to allow the squid trawl fishery to kill more than double the number of threatened New Zealand sea lions is a tragedy for the threatened species, Forest and Bird said today.

The Court of Appeal's verbal decision on an application by squid fishers will allow the fishing industry to kill up to 124 sea lions rather than the 62 decided by the Minister of Fisheries. It could be several weeks until the written decision is released.

Society Senior Researcher, Barry Weeber said the decision was a tragedy and another blow for the conservation of sea lions. "Since the squid trawl fishery started in the early 1980s over 2000 sea lions have died."

"This is the second year in a row that the fishing industry has taken the Minister to Court so that more sea lions could be killed by the squid trawl fishery."

"Deaths through fishing have compounded the tragedy in 1998 when disease swept through the sea lion population. In 2002 the number of pups dropped by over 30%. There was some recovery in pup numbers in the last 2 years but over 20 percent of the pups died from diseases in 2003," he said.

"Now, instead of taking a precautionary approach, the Court has allowed an industry request to double the number of sea lions that the squid fishery can kill," Mr Weeber said.

"Earlier this year the High Court rejected the fishing industry's case and they won an injunction at the end of March from the Court of Appeal after the Minister closed the fishery."

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"Last year, the fishing industry took a court case to stop the Minister of Fisheries from protecting sea lions by closing the fishery. They achieved an injunction but the case was never fully heard," he said.

"These cases show that the fishing industry's claim that they are sensitive to the environment has no substance."

Mr Weeber said industry objections to rules for lower sea lion deaths on the grounds that it would prevent them from catching their full quota of squid over-played the effects of such rules, ignored the variable nature of the squid fishery and showed an irresponsible attitude towards the marine environment. "Over 90 percent of catch is caught by foreign chartered vessels from Russia, Ukraine, Korea and other countries."

"The Ministers of Conservation and Fisheries should urgently develop a management plan to deal with Auckland Islands fisheries. This must include further consideration of an extension of the current marine mammal sanctuary out to 100 kilometres off the Auckland Islands," he said.

"All vessels in this fishery must have official MFish observers. This will prevent a debate over the number of sea lions captured, ensure honest reporting and allow for a better assessment of the marine mammal exclusion device added to trawl nets," he said.

Mr Weeber said the industry must consider using alternatives to trawling for catching squid. "Trawling is an indiscriminate and destructive fishing technique. Jiggers which catch squid elsewhere with less damage to the marine environment should be trialled around the Auckland Island," he said.


1. The New Zealand sea lion is recognised as a threatened species by the IUCN- World Conservation Union list of threatened species.

2. The sea lion only breeds in New Zealand sub-Antarctic waters with 95 percent of population breeding on islands around the Auckland Islands.

3. The Sea lion has been affected by a number of disease events in the last 5 years. The population may have been reduced by over 20% in the major 1998 disease event. The actual extent of mortality of adults may never be known but over 50 percent of the pups died. In 2002 there was a substantial reduction in the number of pups born by around 20 percent and a further 30 percent of pups died. In 2003 over 20 percent of pups died before the end of February due to diseases. This is an alarming trend in sea lion deaths.

4. The 2003/2004 fishing year is the twelfth season limits have been in place on the number of sea lions that can be drowned in the squid fishery before it is closed. The limits are agreed by the Ministers of Fisheries and Conservation after consultation with all stakeholders.

5. Jiggers use bright lights and barbed hooks to catch squid. The method has little by-catch of other fish species and is used in other parts of the fishing zone to catch squid.

6. Trials of the sea lion escape device on trawl nets in 2001 and 2002 had resulted in sea lions suffering life-threatening injuries. The 2001 autopsy "data suggest that sea lions ejected through the SLED may be subjected to potentially lethal blunt trauma. ...Animals so affected would be unlikely to survive." The SLED is worse than useless if it ejects mortally injured sea lions, which are not counted in any maximum limits on sea lion deaths.

7. Greater MFish observer coverage is needed. In 2002 the Minister admitted that operators within the SQU6T fishery have not complied with several elements of the operational plan." In 2003 the fishery had poor observer coverage. In the first four weeks less than 8 percent of trawls were observed. One week had no observers whatsoever and another had less than four trawls observed.

8. The results also indicate that the SLED does not always work as proposed and there is a significant number of failed ejections of sea lions from the net - at least 10-15 percent. In 2002 that increased to over 40%. This year at least 12 observed sea lions have been drowned due to net failures.

9. The Auckland Islands squid fishery catch has been very variable with an average of only 46 percent of the allowable catch limit being caught in the last 10 years. In 2003 the court injunction prevented closure of the fishery but fishers only caught 23% of their quota.

10. Squid is caught mainly by chartered Russian (25-50%), Korean (14-24%), Ukrainian (9-23%) and Japanese trawlers fishing for New Zealand companies.

11. The squid fishery also drowns fur seals and albatross and petrels. The main seabird killed is the white-capped albatross but also southern royal albatross are caught.

12. The squid fishery is not the only fishery that kills sea lions - small numbers are drowned in the scampi, oreos and orange roughy fisheries around the Auckland Islands.

For further information see the Forest and Bird website:

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