Squid fishery decision won’t save sea lions

 Fishing restrictions announced by the government will not halt the predicted slide of our nationally critical New Zealand sea lions to extinction within the next two decades, Forest & Bird said today.

“We are extremely disappointed that this decision ignores the latest internationally peer reviewed research showing that if current levels of by-catch continue, the Auckland Island New Zealand sea lion population will be functionally extinct by 2035,” Marine Conservation Advocate Katrina Subedar said.

Primary Industries Minister David Carter announced today that the maximum allowed number of accidental fishing related sea lion deaths for the 2012-13 fishing season would remain at 68. He said this limit would remain in effect until a review in four years, unless information shows fishing is causing a decline in the sea lion population.

Katrina Subedar said urgent action is needed to protect the sea lion population following a 40 percent fall in numbers since 1998. New Zealand sea lions have a “nationally critical” threat classification, the same as the kakapo.  

“The ministry has dropped the ball on this issue because the latest research shows the sea lion population will continue to spiral downwards towards extinction unless steps are taken to reduce the impact of fishing,” she said.

“At the same time the ministry is allowing the number of trawls in the fishery to be effectively doubled to 4700 per season, making it more likely that sea lions will be caught in the fishing nets.”

David Carter said scientific information showed sea lion exclusion devices (SLEDs), which are meant to allow sea lions to exit the giant trawl nets, are working. 

But Katrina Subedar said there is no evidence that injured or dead sea lions are being retained in the nets. Increasing the number of observers on fishing vessels, as the new rules require, may therefore not give an accurate assessment of how many sea lions are being killed. 

Forest & Bird believes the squid fishing industry could continue to prosper without threatening one of our most endangered species by switching to more sustainable fishing methods such as jigging.