Suggestions that marine protected areas could help manage possible future conflicts between fishers and sea lions need to be acted on, Forest and Bird Otago Southland conservation officer Sue Maturin says.
''Otago urgently needs some marine reserves. We are one of the last regions in New Zealand not to have a marine reserve.''
They were proven to increase fish numbers both inside and outside reserves. ''So a network of reserves could help feed both fishers and sea lions,'' she said, commenting on research by former University of Otago scientist Amelie Auge.
Ms Auge's work proposed marine protected areas (MPAs) as a way of managing increasing sea lion numbers along Otago coast and fishing interests.
It would be ''fantastic'' if sea lions became well established in Otago, because they were rapidly declining at their home base in the Auckland Islands, due to the direct and indirect impacts of fishing, Ms Maturin said.
''Their hold in Otago is precarious and we are concerned that some are criminally shot, or deliberately harmed and ask that this summer people report any suspicious behaviour around sea lions.''
New Zealand Sea Lion Trust chairman Steve Broni said the trust applauded Ms Auge's suggestions of MPAs as a way to try to allow for both a healthy sea lion population and a sustainable fishery.
''Unfortunately ideas like marine reserves have met with strong public opposition, despite the fact that we all support and enjoy our terrestrial national parks.''
While it was important to maintain sustainable fisheries, a breeding colony of New Zealand sea lions would be a huge boost to the local ecotourism industry, which boosted the local economy.
''There is no reason commercial and recreational fisheries and ecotourism cannot all co-exist with a greater number of sea lions.''
More recent science indicated it would be ''extremely unlikely'' there would be 1000 sea lions off the coast by 2040.
''In recent years the number of sea lions on Otago Peninsula is likely to have declined or spread away from their main beaches.''
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