NZ sea lions on red alert

Forest & Bird urges the Ministry of Fisheries to do more to protect endangered New Zealand sea lions, which have been relisted as a declining population on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Hookers Sea Lion. Photo: Louise Chivers.

Hookers Sea Lion. Photo: Louise Chivers.

The Red List previously rated the New Zealand sea lion a vulnerable species at risk of extinction because of its few breeding sites, mainly on the isolated Auckland Islands. Last week it was relisted to recognise that the population is declining.

The change follows years of Department of Conservation monitoring, which has shown a 30 per cent decline in the number of sea lion pups produced over the past 10 years.

The relisting should spur better fisheries management to reduce the number of sea lions caught in squid trawl nets, Forest & Bird Marine Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles says.

“Squid fishing is the main threat to New Zealand sea lions,” she says. “Squid trawl nets have killed between 14 and 123 sea lions every year over the past 10 years.”

Sea lions feed on squid, and can get caught and drowned in squid trawl nets, and the Fisheries Minister each year sets an allowable kill quota of sea lions. “The IUCN relisting shows the management has not stopped the continued decline of the species,” Kirstie Knowles says.

The Ministry of Fisheries is seeking feedback on the 2008-2009 squid operational plan, which sets the sea lion kill quota. Submissions close on October 31.

Forest & Bird wants the kill quota reduced to zero. Fishers could switch to other fishing methods such as jigging, or they could catch more squid in other areas where they currently fish and do not kill sea lions. This would help boost sea lion numbers and improve New Zealand seafood’s clean market image.

For high-res photos of sea lions, contact Forest & Bird Communications Officer Marina Skinner, m.skinner@forestandbird.org.nz