Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith and Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy are requiring that all fishing vessels in the Southern Blue Whiting fishery around the Campbell Islands use Sea Lion Exclusion Devices after 16 New Zealand Sea Lion fatalities in the past three weeks.
“The fatality of 16 sea lions from fishing is unacceptable. We need to step up efforts to protect these endangered marine mammals. I am pleased the fishing industry has responded positively to the Government’s urgent request that Sea Lion Exclusion Devices be used by all vessels for the remainder of this fishing season. We have also asked officials to report on future options to better manage the interaction between the fishery and sea lions,” Dr Smith says.
“This level of fatalities is disappointing and out of step with the positive progress being made by the fishing industry in reducing sea lion by-catch,” Mr Guy says.
“This year we have 100 per cent MPI observer coverage on vessels in the Southern Blue Whiting fishery. There is also a 12 nautical mile trawling exclusion zone immediately around the Campbell Islands. I welcome agreement of the industry to use the exclusion device and their additional efforts to minimise the time trawl gear is able to be accessed by the sea lions to reduce the ongoing risks,” Mr Guy says.
The New Zealand Sea Lion is endemic to New Zealand and has an estimated population of between 10,000 and 12,000. About 80 per cent of the population live on the Auckland Islands and 20 per cent on the Campbell Islands. The species is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list and as ‘nationally critical’ on New Zealand’s Threat Classification System.
“The greatest historic risk to the New Zealand Sea Lion has been from squid fishing adjacent to Auckland Islands. We have made significant progress in addressing this with a management plan, limits on fatalities and the development of a Sea Lion Exclusion Device. This run of 16 fatalities in the Campbell Islands Southern Blue Whiting fishery is a backwards step and requires we increase our efforts to protect these sea lions,” Dr Smith says.
A Sea Lion Exclusion Device is fitted within trawling gear to prevent sea lions from being retained in the net and exits them through an escape hole. This innovative technology is new to the Southern Blue White fishery but offers the best hope of minimising sea lion fatalities.
“The risk to sea lions in the Southern Blue Whiting fishery has historically been small, averaging three fatalities per year over the past decade and zero in 2012. These 16 fatalities in the first three weeks of a six week fishing season is unprecedented. Industry and Government scientists need to work hard to understand why this is happening this season, and how it can be prevented in future,” Mr Guy says.
“We are requiring weekly reports on the fishery from officials. We are also asking officials to report on what other measures should be considered to ensure better protection for the sea lions,” the Ministers’ say.