Cut in sea lion kill quota welcomed but must go further

Forest & Bird has welcomed a reduction in the number of sea lions the southern squid fishery will kill this season – but says the number of sea lion deaths still needs to be much lower.

Department of Conservation researchers on New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic islands have recorded a 31% fall in the number of NZ sea lion pups born this season.

In response the fishery has agreed to a reduction in the number of sea lions it is permitted to kill as “by-catch” in squid nets from 113 to 95.

Forest & Bird marine advocate Kirstie Knowles says any reduction in the kill quota is welcome, but 95 sea lion deaths are still far too many and still poses a serious threat to the sea lion population.

“Any lowering of the kill quota is a move in the right direction but the industry needs to go much further. A kill quota of 95 is still 17% higher than last year’s limit of 81, and still threatens the ability of declining sea lion populations to recover,” Kirstie Knowles says.

“There is no reason why a commercial fishery should be allowed to kill significant numbers of a protected, endemic marine mammal. A kill quota close to zero is the only level that will provide a realistic level of protection – this is achievable if the industry agrees to incremental reductions in the kill quota of 20% each year towards that target.”

Once found right around the mainland New Zealand coastline, NZ sea lions now breed in just a few colonies in the sub-Antarctic islands, where they are highly vulnerable to disease epidemics and genetic “bottle-necks”.

Researchers are not sure why fewer sea lions have been born this season, but have observed far fewer females coming ashore to breed. The sea lions are killed when they get caught and drown in the trawl nets used to catch squid.

NZ sea lions are found only in New Zealand waters and 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.

Contact: Kirstie Knowles 0274 185 026