• Nick Smith

The Minister of Conservation Nick Smith today announced that he has approved the classification of the New Zealand (Hooker's) sea lion as a "threatened species" under the provisions of the Marine Mammals Protection Act.

"The Hooker's sea lions deserve the protection provided for under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. These magnificent creatures are only found in New Zealand and are probably the world's rarest sea lion. They were once far more widespread than the current colonies on the Campbell and Auckland Islands, with populations on both the North and South Islands of New Zealand, but were brought to the brink of extinction last century by European sealers. The fact that they only breed today at these two sites in the Sub Antarctic Islands makes the species more fragile in response to disease and accidental by-catch."

"The impact of man continues, with about 100 sea lions being drowned accidentally by squid trawlers every year. Classifying the sea lions as a threatened species increases the legal imperative to ensure the species survives."

The current population is estimated at between 11,000 and 15,000 animals. Officials from the Department of Conservation, in association with the Ministry of Fisheries, representatives of the fishing industry and conservation groups, are currently preparing a Population Management Plan that will set out a comprehensive strategy for managing the interaction between the fishing industry and the sea lions. A central feature of the strategy will be the establishment of a maximum annual catch level for sea lions, that will allow for a continuation of fishing without significantly affecting the population recovery of the sea lion.

"Co-operation between the fishing industry, conservation groups and government is essential if we are to ensure that the impact of fishing on the sea lion population is minimised. I want to see the continuation of the valuable squid fishery without threatening the recovery of the population of these special mammals. We need to work alongside the fishing industry to develop better techniques and to provide them with the right sort of incentives to reduce accidental drownings."

"The Hooker's sea lion is one of our unique marine mammals whose protection is well justified."