Forest & Bird has released a proposal for a new sea lion protection area off the remote Auckland Islands calling it a win-win for New Zealand sea lions and commercial squid fishing.
The conservation organisation says their proposal would protect most breeding female sea lions and barely impact the trawl boats which can kill the threatened native animals.
NZ sea lions are one of the rarest sea lions in the world, with fewer than 12,000 individuals. At the main breeding location, the Auckland Islands, pup production has declined by approximately 55 percent since 1998.
Seven sea lions have been confirmed dead in trawl nets around the Auckland Islands this year, although the number is likely to be higher as not all dead or injured sea lions are seen and accounted for.
“Forest & Bird’s temporary sea lion protection area is based on satellite tracking data and shows most breeding females hunt within a limited area as they have to return to shore to feed their pups,” says Katrina Goddard, Forest & Bird Ocean Advocate.
“By making most of their vital foraging grounds a temporary trawl free area until the next sea lion protection plan is developed, we can reduce the risk to most of these mums and their dependent pups, while leaving 83 percent of the overall squid fishing area available to the trawl boats.”
The conservation organisation has criticised Fisheries NZ's three options for the squid trawl fishery, for allowing increasing options for sea lion deaths in trawl nets.
“None of Fisheries NZ’s proposals for managing the squid trawl fishery will save our precious sea lions. Fisheries bycatch is the most significant human threat to sea lions and the only one that can be actively managed, and we must try to bring it as close to zero as possible,” says Ms Goddard.
“No one wants to see dead sea lions hauled on board fishing boats, but at least seven have drowned this way this year. Three of these were females and if they were breeding, it’s also a death sentence for her pup onshore, and next season’s pup she will likely be gestating.”
“Forest & Bird's proposal is a win-win scenario for New Zealand sea lions and for the fishing industry. The sea lion protection area won’t have any impact on the squid trawl fishery, but will significantly help our rare and wonderful sea lions.”
See map of Forest & Bird's proposed sanctuary and NZ sea lion photos here.