Sea lion statement may be imminent

Nick Smith
Nick Smith
Conservation Minister Nick Smith may break his silence later this week on the challenges facing the critically endangered New Zealand sea lion.

In the past week, fishing and conservation organisations have called on the minister to release how many sea lion pups were born on the Auckland Islands this breeding season as well as address issues affecting their survival.

A Ministry of Primary Industries spokesman confirmed this week that a New Zealand sea lion was caught on February 17 in the squid fishery near the Auckland Islands.

The sea lion was an adult female and is the second observed capture of the squid season (February to June/July).

Ministry observers have been present at 90% of all squid vessel tows, the spokesman said.

Dr Smith has been travelling on HMNZS Wellington in the Auckland Islands area for the past week and was due to return about today.

Despite repeated requests from the Otago Daily Times for Dr Smith's views on the calls, and claims a release was forthcoming, it had not eventuated.

A spokeswoman for Dr Smith's office said the matter was still under consideration but the minister was looking to make an announcement later this week.

Green Party oceans spokesman Gareth Hughes said the Government should re-evaluate its squid fishery management and look at fishing methods such as jigging, which did not pose as much risk to sea lions.

It also should release the sea lion pup count data, he said.

''The Government has also been refusing to announce the sea lion pup count for the Auckland Islands, the New Zealand sea lions' main breeding ground,'' said Mr Hughes.

Forest and Bird marine conservation advocate Katrina Goddard also called for a change to the jigging method of catching fish.

''The two deaths are especially alarming because they were both females.

They are likely to have a dependent pup on shore and be pregnant so three lives are lost each time,'' she said.

The DeepWater fishing group last week suggested a bacterial infection was causing more damage to the sea lion population than fishing.

Chief executive George Clement said jigging for squid only worked in calm waters as it required a stable vessel platform and conditions in the Auckland Islands were often too severe for the practice.

The group had invested huge amounts of time and effort into refining sea lion exclusion devices.

''Despite our best efforts, we will occasionally catch sea lions and independent MPI observers on board report them.''

 

- rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz

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