The Government has ordered the fast-tracking of a threat
management plan for the endangered New Zealand sea lion,
following a worryingly low pup count at their biggest breeding
New numbers show that 1575 pups were counted on the
subantarctic Auckland Islands this year - down 18 per cent on
Conservation Minister Nick Smith, who is on board the HMNZS
Wellington visiting the Auckland Islands, today described the
low count as "cause for concern".
It as the third lowest since monitoring began in the
mid-1990s and shows an on-going trend of decline over the
last decade of the world's rarest sea lion, and New Zealand's
only endemic seal.
"The purpose of developing a new Threat Management Plan for
the New Zealand sea lion is to review all the risks and
explore all possible measures to ensure their survival," Dr
Options included active field management, such as intervening
to reduce the several hundred deaths from misadventure and
disease, extending or creating new marine mammal sanctuaries
under the Marine Mammals Protection Act, or additional
measures to reduce impacts of fishing.
Dr Smith, with Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy,
were bringing forward the development of the new plan as the
existing operational plan was to be triggered if the pup
numbers dropped below 1500.
This morning's announcement follows calls for action over
recent days, fuelled by the deaths of two sea lions in squid
fishing nets since the season began five weeks ago.
Forest and Bird has called for the squid fishing industry to
use more sustainable methods, while Green MP Gareth Hughes
had accused the Government of "sitting on its hands"and
implored it to re-evaluate its squid fishery management.
Deepwater Group, which represents the squid fishing fleet off
the Auckland Islands, had meanwhile cited a bacterial
disease, Klebsiella pneumoniae, claiming that it was killing
600 sea lions each year, and a third or more of the pups
before they reached the age of two, leaving 15 per cent to
survive to breeding age.
It called upon the Government to investigate.
But some scientists last week expressed doubts about the
claim, saying there were likely to be multiple factors behind
Dr Smith said that the cause was "not clear".
"A wider investigation was initiated in 2012 that indicated
that environmental change and prey abundance were likely to
have played a role in the population decline," he said.
"There is also evidence that a bacterial disease has reduced
pup survival rates over the last two decades."
Mr Guy said that a decade ago, fishing for squid, scampi and
southern blue whiting was catching and killing an estimated
100 sea lion per year.
This number had declined significantly with the Sea Lion
Exclusion Devices (SLEDs) developed by the fishing industry,
"Despite high levels of observer coverage, only a small
number of incidental captures have been observed in recent
"SLEDs are a great innovation but we need to continue to
monitor the use and effectiveness of these devices."
Mr Hughes has instead called for fishing fleets to use
jigging - a squid fishing method that used hooks rather than
nets, and which he claimed posed little risk to sea lions.
Forest and Bird has also called for the shift, arguing it was
difficult for some to escape from the nets through (SLEDs).
"The ongoing concerns with SLEDS means we don't know how many
sea lion deaths go unnoticed," marine conservation advocate
Katrina Goddard said.
The New Zealand sea lion once numbered in the hundreds of
thousands, with their habitat extending throughout New
However, in the nineteenth century the species was decimated
for its blubber and skins, and in 1997, it was declared a
threatened species under the Marine Mammals Protection Act.
The New Zealand sea lion mainly breeds on the Auckland
Islands (70 per cent of the species) and Campbell Island (30
per cent), with small numbers found on Stewart Island.
Dr Smith said the more encouraging advice was that breeding
numbers on Campbell Island were showing improvement and in
the last decade, the sea lion had started breeding on the
South Otago coast line.