Sea lions gather at parliament to plead for their lives

Ninety-five sea lions will gather at Parliament tomorrow to ask the Minister of Fisheries to save them from being killed in squid fishing nets.

The life-size cardboard sea lions will form a temporary colony on Parliament’s lawn at lunchtime with the help of Forest & Bird to raise awareness of their plight as “by-catch” in the squid fishery around the Auckland Islands. The event will coincide with Seaweek (March 1-8).

The New Zealand sea lion is a protected species and its population is in decline, but the fishery is permitted by Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley to kill 95 sea lions as by-catch this season.

Forest & Bird marine advocate Kirstie Knowles says the event at Parliament will raise awareness of the large number of the endemic sea lions which are killed when they become entangled in the squid fishery’s trawl nets and drown.

Forest & Bird will invite Mr Heatley and other MPs to come and hear about the issue. The conservation organization is calling for the sea lion kill quota to be reduced to near zero to help the sea lion population to recover.

Department of Conservation researchers on New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic islands where the sea lions breed have recorded a 31% fall in the number of NZ sea lion pups born this season, heightening fears about the impact of by-catch deaths.

Forest & Bird marine advocate Kirstie Knowles says 95 sea lion deaths are far too many and pose a serious threat to the sea lion population’s ability to recover.

“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”.

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.

WHAT: 95 sea lions at Parliament with Forest & Bird
WHEN: Wednesday, March 4 at 12.30pm
WHERE: Parliament front lawn