Sea lions and their pups in the Auckland Islands. Photo
Sixteen critically endangered New Zealand sea lions have
been killed in fishing nets near the Campbell Islands in the
past three weeks.
As a result, the Government has directed the southern blue
whiting fishery to use sea lion exclusion devices (Sleds) for
the rest of the season.
''The fatality of 16 sea lions from fishing is unacceptable.
We need to step up efforts to protect these endangered marine
mammals,'' Conservation Minister Nick Smith said.
''We are requiring weekly reports on the fishery from
officials. We are also asking officials to report on what
other measures should be considered.''
Four more sea lions had been captured in that time and
released. All were males and generally younger than breeding
age, the industry said.
Dr Smith said the risk to sea lions in the southern blue
whiting fishery had, historically, been small. Fatalities
averaged three a year during the past decade and were zero in
University of Otago zoologist Dr Bruce Robertson said while
Sleds were a good solution in theory, there was no evidence
they would ensure everything caught in nets got out alive.
''On the basis of that, using Sleds will probably mean it
gets brushed under the carpet.''
Sleds were not used in flatfish fisheries but were in the
Auckland Island's squid fishery.
This year, there was 100% observer coverage on the blue
whiting fleet, compared with about 40% in previous years,
which could account for the high number of deaths reported,
''Any deaths by a large and long-lived species which is slow
to reproduce is concerning.''
New Zealand Sea Lion Trust chairman Steve Broni said there
had long been concerns the impact of by-catch was greater
than the industry acknowledged.
''When dealing with a species as `critically endangered'
as the kakapo, any fatality at the hands of industry is of real
concern, and 16 fatalities is one very loud alarm bell as to
where this species might be heading.''
The Government's sea lion science research programme had its
funding drastically cut this year so the trust hoped the
minister's concern would be translated into more funding for
essential research around the Auckland and Campbell Islands.
''Let's be clear - we don't want the fishing industry to stop
catching squid and southern blue whiting; we want them to
stop killing sea lions.''
Forest and Bird marine conservation advocate Katrina Subedar
said the deaths were very concerning, given the fishery was
listed as sustainable.
''Should we be fishing in an area we know is occupied by a
fully protected marine mammal? It is killing endangered
Deepwater Group chief executive George Clement said the fleet
was making every effort to avoid sea lion captures in the
southern ocean after ''unprecedented numbers'' of them had
arrived this season to forage around trawl nets.
''These are taking greater risks around our gear.''
The behaviour, which seemed to be more aggressive this year,
came on the back of the second-poorest squid year in the
27-year history of the fishery, he said.
All vessel operators had agreed to use the Sleds and were
minimising the time their fishing gear was on the surface to
lessen the chance of sea lions being attracted to the nets.
''We are also working closely with MPI [Ministry of Primary
Industries] to establish what might be causing the young
males to be so far offshore in such numbers in order to
identify further ways to avoid captures.''
As the dead sea lions were males, it would not greatly affect
the population, he said.