GOVERNMENT PROTECTS SEA LIONS

  • John Luxton
Fisheries and Aquaculture

Fisheries Minister Hon John Luxton, and Conservation Minister Hon Nick Smith, today announced the sea lion by-catch limit for the 1999/2000 squid trawl season.

"Sea lions are a unique and important part of our biodiversity. They are a precious marine mammal that we need to protect. We are ever mindful of this when setting the annual sustainable levels of fishing related sea lion by-catch," Mr Luxton said.

This year a limit of 65 fishing related sea lion deaths has been set which is lower than last year's limit of 67.

"The Government has kept a close eye on the numbers of sea lions that are killed in fishing nets and it is very pleasing that last season's limit was not reached," Dr Smith said.

"The limit ensures that fishing related deaths do not have a significant detrimental effect on the New Zealand sea lion population, nor the ability of the species to move to a non-threatened status," the Ministers said.

The fishing industry are also taking steps to reduce marine mammal by-catch. These include a device that, if successful, would automatically eject live sea lions from the trawl net. The device consists of a grid on the trawl net that allows squid to pass through, but enables marine mammals such as sea lions to exit through an escape hatch.

"I would like to commend the fishing industry for the work it has undertaken in conjunction with science providers in developing the marine mammal excluder device, which is to be trialed this year," Mr Luxton said.

"This device has the potential to significantly reduce sea lion captures, and I hope the trials prove successful," Dr Smith concluded.

Background on setting sea lion mortality limits

For the past seven years the Ministry of Fisheries and Department of Conservation have placed limits on the number of sea lions accidentally caught during the annual squid trawl fishery around the Auckland Islands.

The maximum number of sea lion deaths has been based on a model developed by the US National Marine Fisheries Service (known as the NMFS model).

While the NMFS model is currently considered the best available, there is general agreement between the government and fishing industry that an age structured population model tailored to the New Zealand situation would be more appropriate.

A technical group is now working on a new model which is intended for completion before the beginning of the 2000/2001 season. In addition to being specifically tailored to the New Zealand situation, the model will also be able to more accurately reflect the impacts of sea lion population fluctuations such as the one which occurred in 1997/1998.