Melanie Hockun, from Germany, and John Gordon, from Scotland, watch a sleeping sea lion at Sandfly Bay yesterday. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
A Ministry of Fisheries proposal to drop the sea lion
mortality limit in the Auckland Islands squid fishery is
"both bizarre and draconian", the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust
The discussion paper released by the ministry for
consultation suggests that no mortality limit be set for the
squid fishery, which overlaps the foraging grounds for the
islands' "nationally critical" sea lions.
The proposal comes with conditions including that all vessels
carry and deploy sea lion exclusion devices and follow all
The ministry also proposed increasing observers on fishing
boats to 50% of the fleet.
It would be reviewed in five years, or earlier if more than
15 sea lions were observed being captured in one season, if
more 4700 tows were made by the fishery and if the pup count
dropped to fewer than 1501 pups on the Auckland Islands.
The changes were based on observations and research showing
the number and rate of observed mortalities had "declined
markedly" in recent years, most likely due to the improvement
in sea lion exclusion devices.
From 29 observed deaths in 2001, mortality numbers had
dropped to zero this year and, based on the most recent
research, it was highly unlikely sea lions could be injured
by the devices, the paper said.
"Fishing is very unlikely to be having a direct effect on the
sea lion population that could be considered adverse."
New Zealand Sea Lion Trust scientific adviser Shaun McConkey,
of Dunedin, said the advice in the paper "flies in the face"
of recent University of Otago research that identified squid
trawl fishing as the most likely cause of the decline in pup
numbers in the Auckland Islands.
The smaller Campbell Islands sea lion population, which was
not affected by the squid fishery, was increasing steadily,
There were many uncertainties in the research that the
ministry did not highlight, such as the lack of information
on how many sea lions survived their interaction with sea
lion exclusion devices and whether they made it to the
surface after escaping.
"Surely, for a 'nationally critical' species, we need to take
a conservative approach and the fishery must 'prove' it is
not killing sea lions."
Forest and Bird conservation advocate Katrina Subedar said
the sea lion population was in decline and the number of pups
born had fallen 49% since 1998.
There was no evidence the sea lion exclusion devices were
operating fully in squid trawl nets as intended, she said.
"We have no proof that sea lions that get out of the devices
survive the encounter." Forest and Bird wanted alternative
fishing methods such as jigging adopted, she said.
"The ministry has a legislative duty to minimise
fisheries-related by-kill. Their proposal flies in the face
of this duty and could condemn this species to an inevitable
The Seafood Council and Deepwater Group said the ministry
proposals were based on "assiduous" fact-finding work by
independent national and international science providers.
Deepwater spokesman Richard Wells said the new scientific
evidence showed there was no evidence sea lions sustained
severe trauma from the sea lion exclusion devices.
"The work shows that previous estimates of sea lion deaths
attributable to [the devices] were greatly exaggerated."
Seafood Council chief executive Peter Bodeker said the
fishery was still required to carefully manage interactions
and maintain the "rigour" of management standards.
"Continued high levels of observer coverage will be applied
to ensure best practices are maintained and, where possible,
Submissions on the discussion paper close on December 23.