• Nick Smith
Fisheries and Aquaculture

The Minister of Fisheries, Hon John Luxton, and the Minister of Conservation, Hon Nick Smith, today announced they would reduce the current limit on New Zealand sea lion deaths around the Auckland Islands from 79 to 63. This follows the recent unexplained mortalities of pups and adult sealions on their Auckland Island breeding grounds.

We have considered the best available information surrounding the unexplained mass mortalities on the Auckland Islands and have decided it is appropriate the limit on accidental sea lion deaths resulting from the Auckland Island squid fishery should be reduced from the current level of 79.

The best estimate of the impact of recent adult mortality on the population, which is a key parameter in the model used in recent years to establish the limit, has lead to a revision of the current limit down to 63 animals. This is a reduction of 20%? the Ministers said.

"This decision has been difficult because the cause of death is unknown and the level of fatalities amongst the adult sea lions is no more than a crude estimate. The decision is made of the basis of the best estimate made by independent scientists, but will need to be revised again next season when better information on the adult populations becomes available."

"The fishing industry wants to see the current squid fishing accidental by-catch limit stay the same. It argues that mortality is low in comparison to the number killed by the mystery illness as to be insignificant. Conservation groups want to see the fishery closed. They argue that the mystery disease highlights how fragile the population of sea lions is. As Ministers we have taken the middle road and kept with the scientific approach previously calculated, using the most recent available data on the sea lion population."

Given the level of captures which have already occurred in the squid fishery this season, Ministers will convene an early meeting with industry, environment groups and other stakeholders to discuss the decision to reduce the maximum limit on sea lion deaths and the implications for the current squid season.

It is important that a process be implemented so that, if necessary, the squid fishery around the Auckland Islands can be closed if the new maximum limit on sea lion deaths is breached.

The New Zealand sea lion population will continue to be closely monitored, in light of the recent unexplained mass mortality event on the Auckland Islands. This assessment will provide additional information on which to base the important long term management decisions required next season